|2012-2013 NBA Season|
|January 11th, 2013|
|The Staples Center, Los Angeles, California|
|9:30 PM CST|
|Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Time Warner Cable SportsNet|
|WWLS the Sports Animal (98.1), 710 ESPN Los Angeles|
|Silver Screen and Roll, Laker Nation, Purple and Gold Blog, Laker Liker, With Malice|
|Previous Meetings: Dec 7th (Thunder Lead Season Series 1-0)|
|Russell Westbrook||PG||Steve Nash|
|Thabo Sefolosha||SG||Darius Morris|
|Kevin Durant||SF||Kobe Bryant|
|Serge Ibaka||PF||Metta World Peace|
|Kendrick Perkins||C||Earl Clark|
It's a really sorry state of affairs in Lakers land right now. There are more tortured fan bases, like those in Sacramento, Golden State, or Washington. But no team has experienced this level of disappointment after so much hope of a revolutionary season. It's not like I feel sorry for Lakers fans, because it's like feeling sympathy for a guy who doesn't have the money to gas up his Ferrari. Yeah, it's kind of sad to see that sports car sit in a garage, but you could have had a Corvette and be driving around the racetrack right now.
Analogies aside, a triplet of injuries has decimated the Lakers' front court. Dwight Howard had his labrum separated from the bone, whatever that means, and is out a week. Jordan Hill injured his hip, and is out for tonight. Pau Gasol had a concussion, and still has not been cleared to play as of this writing, but may appear tonight. With the injuries, the Lakers' starting center is now Earl Clark, who was a minimum salary pickup this off-season. He had by far his best career game two nights ago against the Spurs, but I wouldn't count on him to repeat it.
With the injuries and the 5 game losing streak, the Lakers look pretty helpless on the surface. But before you doom them to failure, you should take a look at their last two games, which have been played with a injured roster. Even though they've played the Spurs and Rockets, two high-scoring teams, it appears that they have become a high scoring team themselves. With no one to man the paint, it's basically become Clark and Sacre at center, a bunch of wings, and Nash and Duhon at PG. Now, this isn't necessarily like the D'Antoni teams of old, because they still played big. But this Laker team can definitely play an up-tempo pace and jack up a lot of threes.
How well they hit those threes doesn't determine the victory, most of the time. If a bigless Laker team is going to win, they need to hold their own when it comes to rebounding, they need to feed the hot hand, and they need to find some way of cutting into the other team's offense. They were a last second three from going to overtime with San Antonio two nights ago, but they lost the battle of the boards and let San Antonio shoot 48% from three. In Houston, their loss was more substantial, but they still rebounded less than the Rockets, along with allowing good shooting percentages. They also had some lineup problems that game, with certain players totally failing to produce.
If you're still wondering how they can compete, it's simple. Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, and Steve Nash are the rocks of scoring. Bryant and World Peace are both kinda given free reign to work in isolation or pick and roll situations, and both will occasionally bring the ball up the floor. Nash, as always, makes full use of the pick and roll. After that, it's kind of a crapshoot. The team hopes that one of the other guys can step up and have a good scoring night. Earl Clark was that guy against the Spurs, showcasing a sudden ability to shoot and dribble the ball. Against the Rockets, it was a mix of Robert Sacre and Jodie Meeks, who worked off the pick and roll and shot threes, respectively. Other points still come from the genius of Steve Nash.
How will the Lakers fare against the Thunder? Well, the Thunder are one of the best transition teams in the league, and have crushed teams that attempt to run with them in the past. But then again, the Lakers will look to Sacre and Clark for mid-range shots, which Perkins and Thabeet will struggle to defend. Also, the Thunder struggle to rebound sometimes and suffer from absent-mindedness while defending the three.
But at the end of the day, I just can't see the Lakers winning. The Lakers normally put themselves in a hole at some point in the game, and the Thunder are great at maintaining leads. Moreover, the Thunder have the talent advantage, and guys like Ibaka and Collison should be able to use their size to score a few bonus points. There's an outside shot that things go awry and the Lakers are just able to score on every single possession, but outside of that the LA defense just isn't there. And it hasn't been there all season.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 115, Los Angeles Lakers 101.