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Thunder vs. Lakers: The Final Test (2011-2012 Game 64 Preview)

He must have spotted a cheerleader on the sideline....
He must have spotted a cheerleader on the sideline....

Records: The Oklahoma City Thunder (46-17) vs. The Los Angeles Lakers (40-24)

Time: 2:30 PM Central Daylight Time

Place: The Staples Center, Los Angeles, California

TV: American Broadcasting Corporation Only (KOCO 5)

Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1), KMEZ 106.7 FM

Enemy Blog(s): Silver Screen and Roll, With Malice, Forum Blue and Gold

Previous Meeting(s): Feb. 23, Mar. 29 (Thunder Lead Season Series 2-0)

Three games until the playoffs. Everyone's excited, and ready to roll. But the Thunder still haven't won a game against a playoff team since April 1st. The Lakers are the Thunder's final matchup against a legitimate playoff contender this season, and it's a huge statement game.

The big question is: Have the Thunder solved the problem of having consistent offense? They're able to run with teams like the Suns and Kings, but the Thunder have looked sluggish against the Clippers, Pacers, Heat, and Grizzlies this month When Durant and Westbrook feel the pressure and start committing turnovers, Harden isn't always there to step up, and other players aren't involved in the offense at all. Usually it just devolves into a bunch of missed threes, turnovers, and Serge Ibaka jumpers.

However, the Thunder have easily won their two previous encounters with the Lakers this season. The Lakers, as everyone knows, are a team with flaws. They rely heavily on their three pillars of Bryant, Gasol, and Bynum, while the rest of the team is inconsistent at best. Meanwhile, the Thunder are perfectly equipped to hit them where it hurts, having one of the best post defenses in the NBA and one of the league's best perimeter defenders in Sefolosha. Meanwhile, Westbrook is completely dominant over the Lakers' offering at PG, which consists of journeyman Ramon Sessions and three point specialist Steve Blake.

This game should be competitive, but the Lakers will watch their grip on the game slowly ebb away once their bench is subbed in. They've gotten dubbed by the Spurs, who are a very deep team, twice this month. Then again, one of those games was played without Kobe, as was their loss to Phoenix.

Still, it's apparent that the Lakers are a team that relies too much on their stars. With their big three on the floor, they're as good as or perhaps even better than the Thunder. But when one of them gets into foul trouble or falls to injury, huge gaps start appearing in the Lakers lineup. You could argue the Thunder are equally as dependent on three players, but they're only dependent on Harden, Westbrook, and Durant offensively. Defensively, I'd argue that they look more to Ibaka, Sefolosha, and Perkins.

So if the Thunder lose this game, I'll be seriously worried about their ability to compete in the second round. But all in all, look for the Thunder to have this one wrapped up by the final minute of the fourth. There will be some intensity and a Lakers comeback at the end, but their earlier minutes will get the best of them, and the Thunder will emerge victorious.

Spurs Watch: The Spurs play the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight, who are coming off of a close win to the Knicks. Irving is back in the lineup after most of April, so there is a small chance of a Cavaliers upset tonight. Should the Spurs lose and the Thunder win, the Thunder will re-gain the first seed in the West. However, the Spurs will have to lose twice more this season in order for the Thunder to take the first seed. The three remaining games for the Spurs after this matchup are against Portland, Phoenix, and Golden State, all teams that are currently out of the plyoffs.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 103, Los Angeles Lakers 97