The San Antonio Spurs won’t be facing Kobe Bryant when they begin their playoff series against the Los Angeles Lakers.
It’s their 12th postseason series, but familiar foe Bryant is absent after tearing his Achilles’ tendon on April 12.
Are the Spurs going to miss competing against their chief nemesis when the series starts today?
“Not really,” Manu Ginobili said. “Of course, playing against him makes you better, that’s for sure. He challenges you on every possession, but I’m not going to miss him, that’s for sure.”
San Antonio has enough of its own worries. The Spurs enter the playoffs having lost three in a row and seven of 10 while Ginobili and Tony Parker have dealt with leg injuries.
Bryant’s injury capped a tumultuous regular season that included the firing of Mike Brown, the courtship of Phil Jackson before the hiring of Mike D’Antoni, purported infighting among players and injuries to Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and Metta World Peace.
Los Angeles responded by winning five in a row to close the regular season, including a 91-86 victory over San Antonio in its first game without Bryant. The late push helped the Lakers capture the seventh seed and earn a matchup with the second-seeded Spurs.
“Of course, I’ve think they’ve done a great job,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “The coaching change was a long time ago, but they’re a different team and that’s to be expected. Without Kobe, there has to be a different emphasis and they’ve made that transition very well and played very successfully.”
The Lakers received some good news with Nash expected to play after missing the final eight games of the season with a hamstring/hip injury. Nash leads the team with 6.7 assists per game.
Nash’s presence should help the team’s transition to an interior game. Howard and Gasol combined for 33 points and 35.5 rebounds in the final two games.
Howard can expect added attention from the Spurs when they employ the Hack-a-Howard strategy.
The Lakers and Spurs still have one of the league’s more spirited rivalries.
“It’s a great rivalry with them,” Parker said. “When I first arrived in San Antonio, that’s all we talked about, that’s all they talked to me [about]. The whole first half talk was about how can we beat the Lakers, Kobe and Shaq. It’s great to play against them. “I’m sure the whole city and all our Spurs fans are excited. It’s a great challenge.”
Playoffs bring out best
The Miami Heat have been saving their best for the playoffs. So has food services at AmericanAirlines Arena, which will roll out a full-court press of restaurant-quality items over the first three rounds of the postseason on the concourses and in premium areas beginning with today’s opener against Milwaukee.
That includes the three new gourmet items that will be prepared and served on food carts on the general concourse: Prime steakhouse cheddar burger, which will debut today, and the SoBe fish taco and Havana-style sandwich that will become available in the second round of the playoffs.