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2012-2013 Game 60 Preview: The Thunder Must Beat the Lakers

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Let's make this preview simple. The Thunder absolutely MUST beat the Lakers tonight!

Is Ibaka gonna have to choke a Kobe?
Is Ibaka gonna have to choke a Kobe?
William Bennett Berry

2012-2013 NBA Season
The Los Angeles Lakers (30-30)
The Oklahoma City Thunder (43-16)
March 5th, 2013
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
8:30 PM CST
Turner Network Television Only
WWLS the Sports Animal (98.1), 710 ESPN Los Angeles
Enemy Blogs: Silver Screen and Roll, Lakers Nation, Purple and Gold Blog, Laker Liker, With Malice
Previous Meetings: Dec 7th, Jan 11th, Jan 27th (Thunder Lead Season Series 2-1)
Injury Report: Pau Gasol (Out), Jordan Hill (Out)
Probable Starters
Steve Nash PG Russell Westbrook
Kobe Bryant SG Thabo Sefolosha
Metta World Peace SF Kevin Durant
Earl Clark PF Serge Ibaka
Dwight Howard C Kendrick Perkins

Let's make this preview simple. The Thunder absolutely MUST beat the Lakers tonight! Why? Well, if the Thunder lose, they'll be worse than the Lakers themselves. They'll forever be known as the team that let the Lakers get above .500 and opened the door for them to get back into the playoff race. All of that talk needs to stop. We need to shut that door immediately and forget about the Lakers forever. Nobody wants to see them, and we all want this experiment to end. There's no reason for the Thunder to face so scary a team in the first round.

Last time these two teams met, the Thunder let the Lakers go ham from the floor. LA was able to totally shut down Russell Westbrook while having Kobe function as their point guard, setting up virtually everybody on the team with easy buckets. Bryant still continued to function as a combo guard after the game, trading off possessions with Steve Nash and continuing to score at high levels.

Other Lakers have seen their games transform as well. Earl Clark is having a breakout season, utilizing the slowness of other teams' power forwards for easy and clean shot attempts. Dwight Howard is morphing into more of a defensive specialist, seeing less touches on offense. Metta World Peace is no longer seen as just a corner three shooter, and now works on some iso sets on his own. Everyone else more or less serves their traditional roles, but the weak and short bench is definitely still a thorn in this team's side.

Meanwhile, the Thunder have some issues of their own. As a team, they rallied to beat the Clippers on the road, and it was a sight to witness. They managed to shut down Chris Paul a second time and control possession. But Scott Brooks fumbled his lineups a little bit in the fourth, and Serge Ibaka sent an all-too intentional looking punch to Blake Griffin's balls. Ibaka has not been suspended for the incident, but it certainly didn't win him a lot of fans.

In order to beat this Laker team, the Thunder must take advantage of the bench and make the starters play too long. The bench almost always comes out with a minus in most games, and the Thunder certainly have the tools to exploit those lineups. But the solution isn't to play Durant for 45 minutes, and Westbrook 40. They'll get too tired at the end of the game, like they did against the Clippers, and they'll fumble the lead at it's most critical stage.

How do you use the Thunder bench? That's the golden question. Derek Fisher will be raring to go against his old team, and Brooks has made it apparent that Fisher is supposed to play. Will he be paired with Martin for a defensive disaster? Will he take over Jackson's minutes? Will Martin see his time shorten? Will we see Ronnie Brewer? Questions abound, but one things for sure: This is going to be one hell of a ride.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 108, Los Angeles Lakers 106.

If you are looking for tickets to upcoming games, you can find Oklahoma City Thunder tickets here.