The Lakers (9-10) are 1-1 in this initial 3-game road trip before heading back home for a pit stop on Sunday against Utah. Tonight's opponent is by far the toughest team they'll face away from Staples Center yet.
The purple and gold got their 2nd road win last Wednesday in New Orleans where Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace both made historical achievements. Bryant reached his 30,000 points plateau while World Peace became the 6th player in NBA history to get at least 12,000 points, 4,000 rebounds, 1,000 3-pointers and 1,500 steals.
But individual records don't mean much if the team continue to have a bipolar personality. Against the Oklahoma City Thunder (15-4), anything less than 100% could prove fatal for the Lakers, especially on the defensive end.
The Thunder have the league's highest-scoring offense averaging 105.7 points per game. It's no secret a lot of that has to do with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Durant is right behind Kobe in scoring at 26.5 per outing, but he's also rebounding (8.5 RPG) and has improved his defense (1.6 SPG and 1.6 BPG). Metta should get the first crack at him. But whoever guards him tonight, they better be up to the task.
Westbrook has turned into a real problem for the Lakers the past 2 seasons. He's been criticized for dominating the ball a little too much, but his 8.7 assists per game average say probably not as bad as most people think. Then again, if you have the foot-speed and uber-athletic advantage over the guy defending you, why go anywhere else?
OKC's decision to trade James Harden to the Rockets was laughed at when it happened. Yes, they may have lost someone that, in my opinion, is a more complete player than Durant. But getting sharpshooter Kevin Durant and a promising young guard in Jeremy Lamb has yet to prove to be a bad return for them.
The Lakers spent Thursday building team chemistry by catching an afternoon slot of "Lincoln". Hopefully, the movie has inspired them for tonight's matchup.
They'll be without Pau Gasol for the 3rd straight time, who is still nursing tendinitis on his knees. And we all know Steve Nash isn't expected back until at least 2 more weeks with Steve Blake due back who knows when.
With both Gasol and Nash out of the picture, the Lakers will rely on Kobe and Dwight Howard to lead them.
Chris Duhon will have his plate full guarding Westbrook and setting the offense for the Lakers. He's done a good job in place of Nash running D'Antoni's system, thus far, so hopefully he continues to do that tonight.
The Lakers have one of the worst road record in the west at 2-5 and are 5-5 in their last 10 games overall. The Thunder have lost only once in their last 10 games and only twice at home so far.
Matchup of the Game
Metta World Peace vs. Kevin Durant: Metta has more freedom to score the basket more under D'Antoni, so it's a good possibility we'll see Durant try his luck in stopping him when he plows his way towards the basket. On the flip side, World Peace must concentrate more in preventing KD from having a monster night on offense more than getting his share in total team points.
Keys to the Game
> Focus: Yeah, defense is a priority on the surface. But if the Lakers come out with zero or little focus on both ends of the floor, it won't matter what the coaching staff had planned for tonight.
> Defense: Against the top-scoring team that also happens to be first in 3-point and free throw efficiency, I'd say the Laker D better be "On" the entire night.
> Aggression: As good as the Thunder are, they are far from being impossible to beat. If the Lakers come out hungry as a team from the get-go, they'll start seeing the Thunder make some mental mistakes on offense and lose focus on the defensive end.
Watch Out For
LAKERS: Antawn Jamison: Unlike Pau, Jamison can stretch the floor more for Howard in the paint. Serge Ibaka loves to block shots as the second defender, but I'm not sure how often he can do that guarding Antawn. There's a good possibility that Ibaka will have a tough time resisting the temptation of helping inside a lot, especially early in the game. All Jamison has to do is capitalize on that.
THUNDER: Kevin Martin: This guy used to be the go-to guy for his previous teams. With the Thunder, he can easily get overlooked. As good and efficient Kobe is on offense right now, he still tends to turn on cruise control on the defensive end. If that happens, Martin could have a strong influence on this game at the start.
Tonight at Oklahoma City Thunder
Tip-Off: 6:30 p.m. (PST)
Chesapeake Bay Arena
TV: TWC SportsNet (So. California)/ESPN (national)
Radio: 710 AM ESPN/1330 KWKW