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They may have beaten the defending champs twice already, but the Lakers (20-13) have yet to face their biggest challenge in the west, until now. Tonight, they'll meet the top-seed Oklahoma City Thunder (26-7) — a team tied for the best record in the NBA and a team that's only lost once at home.
If the Lakers are to beat the Thunder, they will have to do it on offense. OKC's defense is ranked 20th in the league giving up 96.6 points per game at 42.4% shooting from the field. The good news is the Lakers are averaging 42.9% from the field on the road. The bad news is they are only putting up 91 points a contest away from home. But that's not the end of the problems for the Lakers.
The Thunder have the 3rd best offense in the league at 102.8 points per game and have 3 scorers averaging in double digits. Two of them (Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook) are averaging well above the 20s a game. Durant, Westbrook and James Harden have a combined average of 68.1 points per outing compared to Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum's 61.6 points per game average.
With the depth of OKC's roster significantly higher than the Lakers, it would be crucial for the Laker bench to contribute and play well tonight. That also goes for both Derek Fisher and Metta World Peace.
Fish was absolutely on against Dallas last night, but he has to duplicate that performance against Westbrook. Metta's defense on Durant is obviously a major key in this matchup, but he also has to continue to provide support in other areas. Making his shots would be a blessing for the Lakers. However, he can't get too caught up with needing to score in order to help the team win. He could also have a significant effect with his team defense, rebounding, and all-out hustle.
Unlike last night's win in Dallas, Kobe will need to score against the Thunder, especially with Thabo Sefolosha (Thunder's best man defender) being out with a sore foot. With his awefull shooting against the Mavs, it's a good bet Kobe will come out swinging tonight. However, he also has to make sure that the offense go through the post first and not worry about carrying the team offensively unless he has to. But the more Bryant stays aggressive while taking advantage of what the defense gives him, the better chance the Lakers at upsetting the Thunder.
Against OKC last season, Kobe averaged 23 points per game at 46.9% shooting from the field.
The Thunder have not lost at home since Jan. 3rd but have struggled against teams that can score inside. They're also 8th in rebounding and 27th in assists per game around the league.
The Lakers are 5 games below .500 on the road at 6-11. However, they are steadily improving and playing more like a team the past 2 games. They've come out with energy and passion from the get-go against Portland and Dallas and have sustained that edge for nearly 48 minutes in those same games.
They'll need to do the same tonight but will be heavily tested against a team with an explosive offense and quick-footed defense. But if they put on a superb defensive performance on top of establishing their strengths on offense from start to end, they should be able to answer this challenge with a "W".
Matchup of the Game
Andrew Bynum vs. Kendrick Perkins: Bynum will need to establish the Laker interior offense to give his teammates the proper floor spacing to operate. Perkins will need to stop Andrew from dominating in the paint to keep the Lakers from having a better shooting percentage. Both big man can rebound and play tough interior defense. But Bynum is bigger, longer, quicker, and all-out better player than Perkins. Let's see if Andrew remembers that.
Keys for the Lakers
1. Energy: It's hard to come out flat against a team oozing with energy and expect to come out on top in the end.
2. Defense: The Thunder relies heavily on their perimeter shooting to win games. Metta will need to put on another tough D on Durant, and hopefully, that will trickle down for the rest of the team all the way down to the Laker bench.
3. Inside: OKC doesn't have the size to matchup well againt Gasol and Bynum. This is the area of the Laker offense that can really put the hurt on the Thunder and set up the flow of the offense for the purple and gold.
@ Oklahoma City Thunder
Tonight at 6:30 p.m. (PST)
Radio: 710/1330 AM ESPN
Eric Maynor (torn right ACL) is out.
Thabo Sefolosha (right foot soreness) is out.
Lazar Hayward (orbital floor fracture) is out.
James Harden (left ankle sprain) is day-to-day.
Nick Collison (left quad contusion) is day-to-day