Preview & Chat: The Oklahoma City Thunder

Kurt —  March 24, 2009

Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder

strong>Records: Lakers 55-14 (1st in the West) Thunder 20-50 (12th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.6 (1st in league) Thunder 103.4 (28th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.5 (6th in league) Thunder 109.1 (20th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Trevor Ariza, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Thunder Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic

Lakers Coming In: Are the playoffs here yet? Are the playoffs here yet? Are the playoffs here yet? Are the playoffs here yet? Are the playoffs here yet? Are the playoffs here yet? Are the playoffs here yet? Are the playoffs here yet?

I know the Lakers could use the last dozen games to make sure the bench is right again, get Bynum back, and build momentum, but I’m about as patient as Lisa and Bart Simpson in the back seat of a car.

The Thunder Coming In: If you were going to have a really crappy year, 2007 was the time to do it. That year the then Sonics (now Thunder) drafted Kevin Durant with the #2 pick overall. Last year they got Westbrook at #4. I bring this up because I feel for the Kings and the Wizards and OKC this year — Blake Griffin is a legit top pick, but after that the drop-off is huge and whoever drafts second needs to pray Ricky Rubio decides to come over this year.

The Thunder have been winning their way out of the highest of picks recently, having gone 5-5 in their last 10 games — and half of those were without Durant, who was injured. Credit this year for the Thunder doing this year what last year’s Sonics did not — just turn the thing over to the kids. Let Green and Westbrook and Durant learn the hard way, but get burn and learn. As evidenced by recent games, they are learning.

Durant is back and deserves props for learning how to adapt to being “the man” on an NBA team. And that is an adjustment. Look at O.J. Mayo, who started out fast and was a leading rookie of the year guy. Not lately, not for a month or more. Maybe part of it is conditioning, you play so many more games in the NBA than college. But part is that defenses adjust, and these are smarter defenses with more active defenders than Mayo or any rookie has ever faced. And they are focused on him. There is an adjustment period. Durant this year has figured it out, and it’s another step in his evolution.

What I love about Durant on offense is his versatility. Name another NBA player who could be as good as the ball handler or setting the pick in the P&R? He can shoot the J, post up or attack the rim off the dribble, and he is running on the break well. He is a complete player. And his line in the last meeting with the Lakers: 32 points, 11-20 from the field, 2-4 from 3, 8-9 from the line, 10 boards, 6 assists, 3 steals.

Keys To The Game: The Thunder will not be a pushover, this is a team that has beaten the Spurs and Mavericks this month already. And if you remember the last meeting between these two last month, it was one of those games where the Lakers starters built a big lead and the bench gave it all back. Phil left everyone in there to figure it out. The game stayed close for a few until Kobe returned — 5 of 6 from the floor in the fourth, got to the line 7 times, was a +13 for the quarter. Game over.

One key tonight will be for the bench to extend the lead rather than give it back. The key is no turnovers and not chucking up threes. OKC came back on the bench because the Lakers were doing those things, allowing the Thunder’s athletes to get out and run. The Lakers need a more half-court game.

The Lakers need to crash the boards and not give up second chance points either. Odom and Gasol, this is on you.

The good news is that the one position the Thunder do not defend well is the two guard. The Lakers should not need Kobe to go Mamba, but if it is needed this is a team that will have a hard time slowing him.

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