LA has won 3 straight....how?
The Los Angeles Lakers have won three straight, despite enduring one of the worst seasons in franchise history. These new Lakers have carved an identity from outscoring their opponents, as you might expect. But when the three point shot isn't there for LA, they can fall back on their ability to force turnovers. The Jazz turned the ball over 20 times against the Lakers on February 25th, five over their season average.
The back of the Lakers' recent run has been fueled by good performances from Jeremy Lin, Jordan Clarkson, and Wayne Ellington. Those three are basically the defacto ballhandlers for LA, and all bring their own unique skillsets. Lin originally played off-guard next to Ronnie Price, but was shoved into the point guard role when it was announced that Price would be out for the season. Lin hasn't necessarily been a top-level distributor, but he has been a top-level scorer from the position. Lin generally comes off the bench and does damage off the dribble, so I would expect him to do well against the Thunder tonight. OKC just doesn't have good rim protection on the bench while Adams is out, and Lin will draw so many fouls.
Jordan Clarkson, the Lakers starting point, is a player of a similar mold to Jeremy Lin. Clarkson does his best work off the dribble and around screens. Generally Clarkson is at his best when getting to the rim, and he isn't a world class passer. The one thing that really separates Clarkson from Lin is quickness and athleticism. Clarkson can really fly up and down the court, and has a really killer crossover. Expect him to give Westbrook fits. Wayne Ellington, LA's starting shooting guard, works more on the weak side. Ellington is traditionally known as a shooter, but has done more work off of screens and off the dribble recently. Ellington's contribution will be key to any Laker victory, and Roberson certainly shouldn't leave him open.
OKC deals with the injury plague
The Thunder are in a rather precarious situation in terms of injuries. Russell Westbrook's facial fracture suffered at the end of Friday's game at the Portland Trail Blazers came as a shock to everybody. Westbrook's date of return is unknown, and it is assumed that D.J. Augustin will start in his place tonight. The Thunder don't have another point guard on the roster, so Dion Waiters will likely assume the backup role temporarily. Jeremy Lamb is also a candidate to do so, but Scott Brooks simply doesn't trust him. Nevertheless, Westbrook's injury does open up the possibility of minutes for Perry Jones III or Jeremy Lamb. Neither would be particularly terrible for 8-10 minutes, and I could see PJIII getting some easy baskets near the rim.
Another big injury question is Enes Kanter. At the time of writing, he is listed as day-to-day and missed Friday night's game with a thigh contusion. It is unknown how severe the injury was, and Kanter appeared to be fine when exiting Thursday night's game at the Suns. Kanter's presence would be huge, as the Lakers really don't have a player that's capable of stopping him in the paint. Without Kanter, the Thunder will need a big help from rookie big man Mitch McGary. He's the lone big off the bench for OKC, and has proven to be extremely efficient in short bursts. It's hard to see McGary being very effective without a point guard on the floor, though. Someone has to feed Mitch the ball, and the Thunder's wings don't run the pick and roll.
Of course, the Thunder will also continue to be without the presences of Kevin Durant, Steven Adams, and Steve Novak. Durant and Adams are scheduled to be re-evaluated early next week, while Novak is scheduled to return around March 10th.
Who gets the Thunder's shots?
With Russell Westbrook gone, the Thunder lose a titanic chunk of their offense. You might think that OKC would be best served by handing off that offense to the second or third most used offensive players. Sadly, on the Thunder, both of those players present significant problems. Serge Ibaka is taking on all of the offense he can handle already. Serge still can't create his own shot, and shot poorly from the field when trying to significantly expand his range and offensive role earlier this season. Meanwhile, the other option, Dion Waiters, inspires confidence from no one. Waiters shot 1 of 6 in the fourth quarter and overtime of Thursday night's game against the Suns, and turned in sub-30% performances against the Pacers on Wednesday and Trail Blazers on Friday.
Thus, the Thunder will likely be scattering the shots amongst their role players. Expect D.J. Augustin to take on a more active role in trying to move the defense, and expect the Thunder to run more complicated plays in general. Players like Morrow and Singler will come off of screens on the weak side, while players like Collison and (hopefully) Kanter will get post work via the pick and roll. Normally I'd be concerned about the lack of a defense-moving presence for the Thunder, but they're playing the Los Angeles Lakers. As long as OKC passes the ball more than once, they should be fine.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 109, Los Angeles Lakers 104.
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|2014-15 NBA Season Game 60
|March 1st, 2015
|The Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
|5:30 PM Central Standard Time
|TV: The Entertainment Sports Programming Network, Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Time Warner Cable Sports Network
|Injury Report: Enes Kanter (Questionable), Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Steven Adams, Steve Novak, Nick Young, Julius Randle, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash (Out)
|This Season's Matchups: Dec 19 (W 104-103)
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