This also counts as an open thread, so feel free to post your thoughts during the game here.
Time: 8:30 PM Central Standard Time
Place: The Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: Fox Sports Net Oklahoma, Fox Sports Net West
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1), 710 AM ESPN Los Angeles
As I mentioned in my previous blog post, the Thunder still have a long shot at getting the two seed in the West, and a significant shot at getting the third seed. But boy, do they have to earn it. In order for either of those scenarios to be feasible, the Thunder must win tonight. Against the Lakers. In Los Angeles.
This is something that the Thunder have never done while in Oklahoma City. Sure, the Thunder have beaten them under the lights and crowd of the Ford Center, but their efforts have looked downright embarrassing while playing at Staples.
But, even if this ends up meaning nothing in terms of seeding, it's a huge statement game. It will answer questions such as: Can the Thunder hang tough with the big boys? Can they go into the playoffs scorchingly hot? Can they truly be a contender for the Western Conference Finals or even an NBA Championship? Can we throw the "steps" NBA analysts say we progress in out the window? Conversely, if we lose, it's also pretty huge. It nearly locks us into the fourth seed, and it gives us an uphill battle to climb, because the traditional teams will see us as a non-threat.
Even though it may seem like the odds are stacked against the Thunder historically, things are on our side when it comes to the here and now. The Lakers are on a four game losing streak, which includes losses to the lower seeded Trail Blazers and Nuggets. Heck, they lost to the Warriors, who haven't beaten them since 2008, and the hapless Jazz....at home. The Lakers are about as cold as you can get right now, and they haven't faced the current incarnation of the Thunder. That is, the Thunder with Nazr Mohammed and Kendrick Perkins.
Below: When Perkins and Mohammed Bring, How the Game Will Go, Prediction!
What exactly do the two new big men bring to this game? Interior toughness. It's an overused word, but it's true. With Nick Collison, you get someone with a high basketball IQ, who knows when to take a charge, how to get rebounds, and where to be on offense. With Serge Ibaka, you get athleticism and a nice mid-range jumpshot. But, with Perkins and Mohammed, you get great back to the basket defense, solid screens, and a clogged paint. This is infinitely helpful against a team like the Lakers, who have two great back to the basket players, tough interior defense, and not a whole lot of depth. Basically, the Thunder will be able to take good advantage inside when the Lakers have to sit their bigs, and they'll be able to get inside more easily when the bigs are in the game. They'll also be able to hopefully limit the production of the Lakers bigs, forcing them to rely on the ageless Kobe Bryant.
This Thunder team was built to match up with the Lakers, correcting its flaws from last year in every single way. In a nutshell, you'd have to be crazy not to predict the Thunder to win in this one. It's a question of traditions versus current trends, and in my mind, current trends always win out. Thunder by a solid five to ten points.