Time: 8:30 CST
Place: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
Betting Line: Lakers -10
TV: FSN-Oklahoma; FSN-West
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1)
Backstory: When we welcomed the Lakers to town a couple of weeks ago, we gave them all that they could handle in an overtime loss. Now, LA gets to play in front of their home fans, and they add all-star center Pau Gasol back to the lineup. Doesn't look like it bodes well for us, does it? Well, the main thing I'm gonna be watching out for in this one is the Thunder's ability to sustain offensive continuity against the Lakers. We all know the Lakers can (and will) score. Their offense is too versatile and diverse. The thing we have to do (and always have done against the Lakers) is find a way to match their buckets on the other end of the floor. We have always played LA tighter than we're supposed to (thanks in large part to the defensive efforts of guys like Thabo Sefolosha on Kobe Bryant), and we all we can hope for is that to be the case again tonight. We want to have a chance at the end of the game, and then hope to all that is holy that Kobe doesn't take the big shot. That's really all you can do against a team like this.
Matchups and Prediction After The Jump!
Point Guard: Russell Westbrook vs. Derek Fisher
Now firmly entrenched in his elder years, Derek Fisher has had to resort to some of his veteran tricks to remain one of the game's better point guard defenders. Unfortunately, he's pretty good at those tricks. Fisher is deceptively effective guarding opposing point guards, and has managed to hold Westbrook relatively in check despite his lack of speed and quickness. Westbrook needs to battle all night, and push the ball in transition so he can see some open floor, because Fisher won't give him an opening any time soon.
Shooting Guard: Thabo Sefolosha vs. Kobe Bryant
Kobe did his usual thing against us last time we met: Waited for the game to come to him, never dominated, made all the clutch shots, finished with 31 points. He makes this game look easier than anybody I have ever seen, so it's up to Thabo to make tonight as difficult as possible for him. The problem with Kobe is that you don't want to frustrate him too much, as he is one of this league's rare superstars who plays significantly better when he is angry. You can't let Kobe get that look in his eyes, or you're begging to go home a loser. All Thabo needs to do is shade Kobe everywhere, and hope that his long arms can throw Kobe's jumpshot off, for just one night.
Small Forward: Kevin Durant vs. Ron Artest
The Lakers new defensive stopper is an ideal matchup for Kevin Durant. Crap. Durant did manage to score 28 in the teams' first meeting, but he did it on less than 50 percent shooting. Artest, while he may have lost a step or two, is still a former NBA Defender of the Year, and is still one of the top defenders this league has to offer. All of Durant's usual advantages over a defender are eliminated: Artest is big enough to guard him, quick enough to guard him, disciplined enough to guard him, etc. Adding to that, Artest is much stronger than Durant is, so the post game will probably be non-existent tonight. The odds say Durant doesn't have a good game tonight, but I have faith that he'll defy the odds and put on a good show. That's what all the special players do.
Power Forward: Jeff Green vs. Pau Gasol
And this is where the height starts getting to us. Between Gasol, Bynum, and Odom coming off the bench, LA has three skilled 7 footers that can (and usually do) cause usserious problems. In this particular matchup, Green is one of our toughest and scrappiest defenders, but seems to be over matched. Pau Gasol may be a tad "soft" but he is a legitimate 7 feet tall, and he is one of the most skilled 7 footers this league has to offer. Green needs to be physical and keep him away from the rim. He has a jump shot but we should make sure he takes a few of those before we let him start going to work in the post. We also have to crash the defensive glass hard to compensate for our lack of size here.
Center: Nenad Kristic vs. Andrew Bynum
And now we get on to the guy I think really makes the Lakers offense run. Andrew Bynum. This guy is another legit 7 footer, this time with much more bulk on him. Bynum is a physical specimen, who has developed astoundingly effective post moves for a man of his young age. Kristic has been a rock for us on the offensive end, but it's time for him to step up and get physical on the defensive end. If he and Etan Thomas can find a way to hold Bynum in check (say 16 points maybe), we could have a better chance of winning this game than people are giving us credit for.
Now at full health, the Lakers have the luxury of putting perennial all-star forward Lamar Odom on the bench. Wow. This guy could start at almost any position on almost any team in the league, and he's coming off the bench? Yeah, the Lakers are that good. Also making a difference of the bench are explosive guards Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar, who can both score in bunches when necessary. For us, it appears to be the same old. Nick Collison and Etan Thomas will be called on to play in the post a lot (as I suspect some serious foul problems), and even Serge Ibaka might get the call tonight. James Harden is coming off 2 consecutive 24 point games, and looks to continue to fight his way into the Rookie of the Year conversation.
Coaching and Intangibles:
Between a coach with 10 NBA titles, a storied home arena, and the desire to put us down early after letting us hang around earlier this month, I think the Lakers have us edged out on this one. Sorry guys.
Kobe will be Kobe, and the Lakers will be the Lakers. I think we'll come out fired up and probably hang around for the entire first half. In the 3rd though, and maybe even the end of the 2nd, the Lakers size and depth will probably start being too much for us to handle. I think they'll do their usual thing and pull away, leaving us in the dust in the second half. Lakers 102, Thunder 88