Preview & Chat: The OKC Thunder

Kurt —  February 24, 2009

Records: Lakers 46-10 (1st in the West) Thunder 13-43 (14th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 114.2 (1st in league) Thunder 103.7 (27th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.5 (7th in league) Thunder 110.3 (24th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Thunder Russell Westbrook, Kyle Weaver, Kevin Durant, Nick Collison, Jeff Green

Lakers Coming In: Lots of concern around Lakers nation about the minutes Pau Gasol is racking up — in the Lakers last 10 games he is averaging 42 minutes, in the overtime game the other night he played 49. Is that too many for a guy coming off the Summer Olympics that the Lakers need to be ready to go come playoff time?

It’s a Catch 22: Do you want home court advantage? Because, play more Powell (who has been solid but is not Gasol) or DJ Mbenga and the Lakers lose games like that last one. Or, you play hard now and maybe get some rest later in the season (and remember, the first round of the playoffs has a lot of days off in there). Phil Jackson told the OC Register’s Kevin Ding he is thinking of taking door number two. He is not going to start cutting back Gasol.

“No, not yet,” he said after Sunday’s victory against Minnesota. “Maybe in April at some point we may watch it. We’ve shut down players before and gave them a week off here and there — players that we thought needed the rest at times during the end of the regular season. But at this particular point, we’re still pushing on.”

Gasol is not 35, he’s young and as long as he is holding up, I think you need to ride the train. What would be nice is a couple of blowouts so he and Kobe and Fish can get some minutes cut back.

And for those thinking we need to get someone or should not have let Mihm go: There is nobody who replaces Pau or gives you better minutes than Powell out there. Did you see Mihm play? I like Mikki Moore as a solid backup guy (he will fit in well and help some in Boston) but he is no better than Powell. And he was the best guy out there. The Lakers roster is the Lakers roster, and frankly it is good enough to get everything we as fans and the team wants this year.

The Thunder Coming In: Two guys have seen the Thunder in person recently, our own Darius and Brett from Fanhouse. Both of them sent me some thoughts on OKC, which I will paraphrase here:

First, Kevin Durant is the real deal. Brett said he seems to score quiet points in the sense that he does not just take over a game the way Kobe or LeBron will, but he scores seemingly every time he touches the ball. Darius said he is already one of the elite scorers in the game: “his length and long stride enable him to get to basket easily against players that play him too closely. He is also rebounding much better and filling the lane on the break quite well. He’s getting to the foul line and shooting the 3 ball well too.” Darius suggests if you work to deny him the ball you can do it, he doesn’t fight for it enough.

Former Bruin Russell Westbrook amazes everyone with his athleticism, but he may really be a two forced to run the point right now. Darius thought he looked better as the two with Watson on the floor, but even at the point Westbrook will make amazing plays and can finish at the rim on the break or in the half court. But, he’s a rookie and makes a lot of rookie mistakes and turnovers as well.

Darius on Jeff Green: “Jeff Green is a bigger, stronger, faster, more athletic Luke Walton. He was crafty in the post and showed a nice jumper too. He was physical on the boards and was just a right place, right time type of player.

And one final note from Brett: But Scott Brooks seems like a tortured soul who can’t figure out how to get the most or best out of his young team, so they lose a lot, and lose big. OKC is a likable team with a future, but especially against teams like the Lakers, the future is most certainly anything but now.

Keys To The Game: The Lakers have a big advantage in the paint, but in the last meeting did not really exploit that. Do it tonight and they should win big.

Another big advantage for the Lakers, from Darius looking at OKC: SG is their weakness and it’s a big one. They need to address this in the draft or get a steadier PG and move Westbrook there…. Maybe Thabo will help them eventually, but he didn’t look ready against the W’s. I really think this is a team that could use a Bowen/Raja Bell type that could guard the other teams wings while also shooting the ball from the corner.

Um, I think the Lakers have a pretty good two guard. He could have a big night.

The Lakers have to not give up the fast break points and easy buckets to this team. The Thunder struggle in the half court but can hang if you let them get Durant and Westbrook and Watson out and running. This team has athletes, you can’t get into that game with them and blow them out.

Where you can watch: 5 pm start out West on KCAL 9 and online at your favorite locations.