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Preview: Lights-out Lakers invite Top-Heavy Thunder

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Guards vs. Bigs, the classic conundrum!

Nick Collison. Point Break!
W. Bennett Berry

The Thunder begin a three game road trip out West tonight with a visit to the Los Angeles Lakers. At 8-6, Oklahoma City stands at 6th in the West. At 7-7, the Lakers stand at 8th in the West. If things continue to shake out really tight out West, this game could be important when it comes to the playoff picture.

Lakers

The Lakers Season has given fans in Los Angeles what they want. A competitive team. After suffering through a few years of teams that just had no chance, this Laker team appears to be playoff-ready. With a team composed of dynamic young players combined with playoff veterans still close to their primes, the Lakers can compete on most nights. Without D’Angelo Russell, the Lakers gave the Spurs a run for their money on November 18th.

But that Spurs loss, and most Laker losses, seem to highlight a critical flaw. The Lakers defend shots very poorly, always going for the turnover. So the Spurs were able to shoot really well from wherever they wanted. The only reason the Spurs found it difficult is because they took a lot of long twos, and didn’t really have the athleticism to stop the Lakers on defense a lot.

Thunder

The Lakers are a sight for sore eyes, after what happened to the Thunder at home on Sunday. The Indiana Pacers, sans Paul George, were able to beat the Thunder in a strong performance. Jeff Teague, the veteran import from Atlanta, did particularly well. Teague shot 5 of 9 in the paint and had 6 steals, which says a lot about how hectic the game was. OKC, lacking a backup point guard, committed 20 team turnovers. It’s not as if turnovers weren’t a problem beforehand, though. At 16.9 Turnovers per game, the Thunder rank as the worst team in the NBA in that category.

The Pacers also spread the floor extremely well against the Thunder. Myles Turner and Thad Young, the Pacers starting C and PF respectively, took a combined 11 shots outside the paint. This has the effect of dragging Sabonis and Adams all over the floor, and opening up the basket for Pacer scores. Combine that with a stellar 11 of 22 beyond the arc, and you’ve got the recipe for a Pacer victory.

What did the Thunder actually do well on Sunday? Force turnovers. The Pacers turned the ball over 22 times, which is the primary reason the game was close at all. Also Westbrook had another one of those “par for the course” 31 point, 11 rebound, 15 assist outings. The only problem is that Westbrook shot 38% while doing it. Ah well. Westbrook seemed a bit rushed and out of control at times, but I’ve made that criticism thousands of times before. With no backup PG and poor scoring options, Westbrook has his work cut out for him. Either the Thunder win on defense, the Thunder win on Westbrook, or the Thunder don’t win at all.

Tonight

I see the Thunder running roughshod over the Lakers. I know I have egg all over my face from predicting the Thunder would blow out the Pacers. But hear me out! The Thunder beat this same Laker team 113-96 back on October 30th. And OKC did it with a whopping 19 turnovers, so it’s not like Christon had much of an effect anyway. Also, this is a game where Kanter can be ridiculously effective (16 points on Oct 30), because the Lakers just don’t have a center off the bench. And Tarik Black is huge. Also also, the Lakers don’t really have stretch four or fives that can shoot.

OKC is one of the worst half-court teams in the NBA. As such, it’s really fortunate that OKC is playing the Lakers, whom are second to last in the league at opponent effective field goal percentage.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 118, Los Angeles Lakers 104.

What do you think of tonight’s game? Drop a comment and let us know!

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Injuries: D’Angelo Russell (Probable), Ivica Zubac (Probable), Semaj Christon (Out), Cameron Payne (Out)

Time: 9:30 CST

Place: The Staples Center, Los Angeles, California

TV: NBATV, TWCSN, FSOK