Preview & Chat: The Oklahoma City Thunder

Kurt —  November 22, 2009

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Records: Lakers 9-3 Thunder 7-6
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 105.9 (16th in league), Thunder 104.5 (21st in league)
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 101.8 (9th in league) Thunder 101.1 (6th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Thunder: Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Jeff Green, Kevin Durant, Nenad Krstic

The Lakers Coming in: Andrew Bynum is officially a game time decision, but I’m guessing he goes. If not, Gasol slides over to center and Odom is back to starting for a night.

With the return of the “regular” starting lineup against Chicago, the Lakers played their best all around game of the season Thursday. One night is a start, the Lakers need to start playing like that night in and night out, build continuity through the season.

Also, as has been said before, Sasha has been the guy squeezed out of the guard rotation for now. But over the long NBA season, he is going to get chances again, injuries or back-to-backs will mean minutes. If he uses those chances well, he gets a few more minutes. It’s pretty simple — minutes in the NBA should be a meritocracy. They’re not, but the closer you can get to that the better. Sasha has earned being pushed out of the rotation, if he wants to be back in he has to play better. Sounds simple, but…

The Thunder Coming in: OKC has won four of its last six, is 7-6 on the season and if the playoffs started today they would be in. Things seem to be on, or a little ahead, of schedule for a young and building team. And defense is the key to that.

Watch the Thunder defense tonight, they have tried to play a “shell” defense as they call it and the result has been they contest three point shooters well — opposing teams are shooting 28.2% from three against them, best in the league (the Lakers were they exception, shooting 5 of 11 last meeting. The Lakers post game may throw their “protect the rim and contest threes” system off.) The goal is to protect the rim and contest from deep.

The core of the shell defense is to take away easy buckets in transition by getting back. Again a good system — every team wants those easy points — but if the goal with the Lakers is to force them into the halfcourt, the Lakers will take that. They have a very good half court offense, particularly with Gasol back.

Because they are long and athletic, the Thunder switch and help on defense better than most teams, and so far that has worked to their advantage. They create turnovers and don’t give up offensive boards. That has worked well for them on defense so far.

Blogs and Links: Check out Daily Thunder.

Also, if you haven’t seen Sonicsgate you should.

Also, great story in the NY Times about the use of the pick and roll in the NBA and how much it is growing. The Lakers generated 11% of their offense with it last year, the lowest percentage in the NBA. I agree with Brian Kamenetzky, I’m glad the Lakers don’t rely on it.

Keys to game: The Lakers starters not named Kobe shot very well last meeting with the Thunder — Artest had 20 points on 6 of 8 shooting, he led the efficiency parade. With Gasol back tonight I expect another night of the Lakers getting he shots they want, they just need to drain them with a long arm reaching out (the Thunder use their athleticism to get steals and spark that defense).

But that first game still went to overtime, largely because of Laker turnovers. LA turned the ball over on 25% of their possessions in that game (25 turnovers on the night). But Los Angeles forced 14 second half turnovers from the Thunder. If one team can take care of the ball it will have a huge advantage. The Lakers should trap Westbrook, that was effective last game.

Ron Artest did a good job on Kevin Durant late, he was 0-5 in the fourth quarter and overtime (to be fair, the Thunder did a poor job of getting him the ball at points when he was open that quarter as well). Artest got in his head late. Durant finishes at the rim well (74%) and is a good midrange guy (about 40%), but if you can make him work to get the ball and shoot from the outside he is less effective. Expect to see a lot of the Artest/Durant matchup. Otherwise on defense the Lakers need to play their roles, they got burned on some bad gambles last meeting (I’m looking at you, Kobe).

Speaking of Kobe, he seemed to take Thabo Sefolosha’s defense as one of those personal, mano-a-mano things last time and while he had 31 and key OT hoops, he tried to take over the game when other players were having efficient nights. He needs to get his in the flow of the offense, get the shots in the paint off the rub action not just isolated in the post (obviously last game was pre-Pau so hopefully we see the offense more tonight). Ball movement like the Lakers had Thursday will be key.

James Harden has been playing great of late, he needs particular defensive focus off the bench,

Where you can watch: This game tips off at 6:30 pm Pacific, on Fox Sports, and on the radio at 710 ESPN.