So, you probably already know pretty much everything about the Los Angeles Lakers. They're the NBA's most popular franchise, and every move they make is constantly scrutinized throughout national media. You probably also already know that tonight's game will be the third for Kobe Bryant since his achilles injury during the first round of the 2013 Playoffs.
Anyway, let's talk about what you might not know.
- Mike D'Antoni has single-handedly saved his coaching career. After getting fired from the Knicks, he was given tons of money to coach the Lakers. His first year was seen largely as a failure, but his second year saw him take a crew of NBA misfits to a 10-9 record before Kobe's return. He saw a lot of success in inspiring defensive tenacity within his team and installing a system that worked for the personnel that they had. However, there's still a lot of concern over whether the team's totally unselfish offense will continue once Kobe becomes their focal point again. If you're interested, there's a great discussion about it over at Silver Screen and Roll.
- The Lakers don't use gimmicks on defense. Despite their fast pace, they only force 13.7 turnovers a game, good for second worst in the league. Rather, they rely on the individual talents of their players, and generally stay home on shooters.
- This team, despite their size, really struggles on the boards. Their rebounding differential of -3.8 is good for third worst in the league. More immediately, low rebounding numbers killed an otherwise efficient offensive night against the Suns on Tuesday.
- Pau Gasol is having one of the worst seasons of his career. This seems to make sense, since he's getting older and more injury-prone. This is partially true, but he's also struggling mightily with efficiency, because he's taking a significant number of his shots further away from than rim than he did in the past. You can read a great piece about it over at Lakers Nation.
On the Thunder's side of things, this team is the strongest it's been since 2012. They're coming off of two convincing back-to-back victories against the Hawks and Grizzlies, and still have a strong memory of their domination of the Pacers on Sunday. Some cracks are starting to show in terms of injuries, though. Thabo Sefolosha has missed the past two games with a minor knee sprain, and his status for tonight is uncertain. Furthermore, Steven Adams left Wednesday's game with an ankle sprain, and it remains to be seen whether he'll be able to play tonight.
Should Sefolosha not be able to go, the Thunder might struggle to contain Kobe Bryant. Letting Andre Roberson start against Kyle Korver and Jerryd Bayless is one thing, but letting the rookie go head-to-head with a motivated Kobe Bryant is something else entirely. My sneaking suspicion is that Roberson would get into immediate foul trouble because he'd play Kobe too close, but it's really anybody's guess. Should Sefolosha be able to go, Kobe should be out for an average night. Both have had their victories in the past, but in general, Kobe's about par for the course against Sefolosha.
Anyway, I can see an emotionally charged Lakers team giving the Thunder all that they can handle tonight, but I just can't see them pulling out a victory. The Thunder haven't been too fond of the three this season, so I don't see LA's good perimeter defense coming into play. Plus, the Thunder are a team that's often hampered by turnover problems, and the Lakers don't like to trap. Finally, when you consider that the Lakers were just outscored by the Suns and Raptors while the Thunder are looking amazing offensively, it's hard not to see a Thunder victory. If that wasn't enough, consider that the Lakers did the aforementioned two things with Steve Blake on the roster, but he won't be playing tonight. (Yeah, I obviously didn't need to tack on that line at the last minute. No one will notice!)
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 112, Los Angeles Lakers 103.
What do you think is going to happen in tonight's game? Let us know in the poll and comments!