Tonight the Lakers will match up against the Oklahoma City Thunder led by the young stud Kevin Durant – young studs I guess I should say. Although extremely young, this OKC team has one of the most talented cores in Durant, Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green. Thabo Sefolosha plays his role well and guys like Eric Maynor, James Harden, Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka give them quality minutes off of the bench.
Tonight, the Lakers will have to ratchet up the defense again because they’ll be trying to stop Durant, who has been in a quasi-battle with LeBron James for the league’s scoring title. He’s definitely able to get buckets when and where he wants as witnessed during his ridiculous 29-game streak of scoring at least 25 points. The problems don’t stop there, though. Russell Westbrook, when he’s having an on night, can fill up the score card. Already twice this month, he’s had games where he’s had at least 30 points and 10 assists. He is definitely a much better distributor than he ever was at UCLA, but he’s also been prone to turn the ball over.
Ron Artest and the Fisher-Farmar-Brown trio will be key in stopping those two. In both games that Westbrook has recorded 30 and 10, Durant had at least 35 points and at least two of their other teammates scored in double figures. I like this match up for the Lakers because we get to look at how they’ll fare against two completely different kinds of teams in back-to-back games as the season comes to an end. I like to get a feel for what style of play the Lakers are more comfortable with going into the playoffs, not that it makes any difference, but it’s definitely something interesting to pay attention to as the real NBA season begins.
Game of the Week from the Los Angeles Times: The Lakers have taken plenty of heat for their difficulty winning in Portland, but here’s a streak their followers can enjoy. The Lakers have won 12 consecutive games against the Oklahoma City Thunder franchise. Plenty has been written about the Lakers’ nine-game losing streak in Portland, which finally came to an end last month. But almost nothing has been written about their Thunder run, probably because it’s split across two teams in two cities, the Lakers winning their last six games against Seattle and their first six after the SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City. Personally, I hope the streak continues. Seattle was one of my favorite cities on this continent, let alone the NBA, so I wasn’t thrilled when owner Clay Bennett yanked the team out of Seattle. There’s no cheering in the press box, but there’s certainly private delight in a particular team losing here and there.
From the Orange County Register quoting a Rolling Stones Article: “(Durant’s ability) to challenge demented three-faced narcissist Kobe Bryant and the Laker hegemony has been the highlight of the year … The now-inexorable climb down the dominance ladder for a megalomaniac like Kobe is a tale every sports fan outside L.A. can’t help but appreciate … “Kobe has always been smart and predatory and pathologically driven, and he’s going to maximize every last drop of ability in an attempt to stay on the throne, so the Lakers will hold off the Thunder for a few more years. But the moment is coming when Kobe is going to throw everything he has at Durant, and this wide-eyed, lanky, respectful kid – nothing personal, Mr. Bryant – is going to kick his @$& anyway. That’ll be a delicious moment, and it might even happen this year.” (Sorry, Rolling Stone Magazine doesn’t provide a link to this story). Don’t count on Durant coming anywhere close to Bryant. Even at 31 years old and with the mileage that comes with 12-plus NBA seasons, Bryant still has more talent and more drive to kick more than one up-and-comers rear end. And do you really think with the Lakers in position to defend their NBA title, Bryant worries about Durant?
Also from the Orange County Register, Phil Jackson explains that the Lakers put more emphasis on 3-point shooting in “the latter part of the season,” and, apparently, Ron Artest has been stealing since he was a kid, not just from Manu Ginobili, but from Little Debbie, too.
Apparently, the Kobe-Lebron Finals chatter is starting back up again, this time with Fox Sports: You know I hesitate to even ask this, since this NBA season has seemed almost destined to end in the Finals with Kobe vs. LeBron. But what if that doesn’t happen? What if the closest we get are those puppets? No offense to the season-ticket holders of the Milwaukee Bucks, for example, but many of us casual NBA observers need a LeBron-Kobe Finals. Forgive us. But we need a reason to be excited about pro basketball, after a season in which one of the dominant storylines has been Clearing Cap Space. Look, give us something, after so many of the moves this season were made not for the postseason, but for the coming offseason. After it seemed like most every team was out of it almost as soon as the season started. If all year it was going to be Lakers-Cavs at the end, the only bright spot is at the end we’d get to see Lakers-Cavs. Yes, if this year promised anything, it was the hope of seeing a new rivalry, of watching two greats at their heights, old style, Magic-Bird. And this is their moment. If they want to take their rivalry beyond foam and 30-second spots, this is their shot. Maybe their last shot. If not now, when?
From the Los Angeles Times on Kobe passing Alex English – and the seven other NBA greats that he’s passed this season: There’s rarely been a month that has gone by this season in which Lakers guard Kobe Bryant hasn’t moved up on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. With exception to the month of December and in the Lakers’ first two regular season games in October, Bryant has broken a scoring record at least once in all the other months. That’s a total of six times, including twice in November, once in January, twice in February and in the Lakers’ most recent game, a 92-83 win Wednesday over the San Antonio Spurs. That game featured Bryant eclipsing Alex English (25,613) for 12th place on the NBA’s all-time leaders scoring list with 25,636 career points.It’s pretty well-established that Bryant scores a lot of points. But it’s surreal to see the pace at which he’s doing it. Last season, Bryant moved up from 23rd on the scoring list to 17th, moving past Larry Bird (21,791), Gary Payton (21,813), Clyde Drexler (22,195), Elgin Baylor (23,149), Adrian Dantley (23,177), Robert Parrish (23,334) and Charles Barkley (23,757) along the way.
ESPN.com has a post saying that Andrew Bynum and Luke Walton could be back on the floor as early as next week. Basket Blog has a clip of Jordan Farmar winning a half court shooting competition, and finally, a collection of quotes from Phil Jackson after yesterday’s practice (sorry, no video):
After Thursday’s practice in Oklahoma City, Lakers Head Coach Phil Jackson answered some questions to assembled L.A. media about his squad as well as Friday night’s opponent, the Thunder. Among his comments: On Sasha Vujacic: Jackson: Sasha has had a year where his shot’s been inconsistent and his playing time has been inconsistent. So we’ve asked him to just play the role that he knows how to do. He’s an efficient guard, he knows how to run the offense, he knows the actions we’re (running). Don’t worry about the shot, it will come when it comes. He was playing really well in short minutes, because Shannon (Brown) has played well and started when Kobe (Bryant) was out and Jordan (Farmar) has had a dedicated role on this team and Sasha hasn’t. But that’s doesn’t mean he can’t help us, and that’s what we’ve been saying.
(UPDATE: I just saw this post by Zach Harper on Hardwood Paroxysm on how Kobe’s supreme confidence is what he appreciates about him, and how he’d like to see it more from the other NBA superstars — most notably LeBron James.)