Preview and Chat: The Oklahoma City Thunder

Phillip Barnett —  January 17, 2011
Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images

Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images

Records: Lakers 30-12 (2nd in West), Thunder 27-13 (3rd in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.0 (1st in NBA), Thunder 110.0 (8th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.0 (9th in NBA), Thunder 107.9 (17th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Thunder: Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic
Injuries: Lakers: Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff (out); Thunder: None

The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers went into yesterday afternoon’s hallway battle with the Clippers winners of seven straight only to see their streak snapped by a young, upstart squad that has been playing very well recently. Tonight, the Lakers face the epitome of young, upstart squads in the NBA in the Oklahoma City Thunder. Of course, the Lakers would have loved to have won their previous game, but they’re coming into this game with the Thunder with an 8-2 record since the return of Andrew Bynum.

It’s hard to be upset with the Lakers recent play, and the improvement began with Kobe’s sudden increase in offensive efficiency. During the course of the Lakers’ last five games, Kobe has shot 48 percent while scoring 26.6 points on 19 shots per game. Further more, he’s averaged 6.8 rebounds and 5.2 assists during those same games. Ron Artest, interestingly, has also seen his offense take a dramatic rise. While 11 points per game during his last five is nothing to write home about, he has shot 50 percent from three and 44 percent from the field – all well above his, respective, 8.1/39.6 3FG%/ 40.7FG% season numbers.

Also, with the increase in some specific offensive areas, the Lakers’ collective defensive efforts have been fantastic, headlined by giving up only 57 points to the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers. During their seven game winning streak, the Lakers only allowed an average of 88.1 points per game – which would place them at the top of the league. Andrew Bynum, since his return, has done a great job at challenging shots and allowing parameter defenders to play aggressive with limited consequences. He’s taken the burden of guarding opposing teams’ centers from Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, and the team has reaped the benefits.

The Thunder Coming in: The last time we saw the Thunder, Kobe air balled a potential series clinching shot that Pau Gasol grabbed and proceeded to put in to close out the Thunder, in Oklahoma City, after an extremely fun, intense sixth game. Much like the Lakers, the Thunder are coming into this match up with their team from last very much intact and playing some of the best basketball of their respective season. The Thunder didn’t begin the season scorching, much like a lot of people expected them to, but they’re now winners of four straight and seven of their last 10, with the current third spot in the Western Conference.

They’ve been led by Kevin Durant, who is well on his way to a second straight scoring title; and Russell Westbrook, who is playing the point guard position as well as anyone in the league. With Durant’s ability to score at will, Westbrook’s inhuman quickness and the team’s collective athleticism, they’ve been able to collect some recent wins against some very good teams, Orlando and Dallas the most recent.

Thunder Blogs: Everything Royce is doing over at Daily Thunder is fantastic. Make sure you go check them out.

Keys to the Game: The only thing different about this year’s Thunder team and last season’s is the added year of experience they’ve gained. This is a team that knows its identity and will go out and play their game, which means they’re going to run early and often. If the Lakers want to win this game, they have to play much like they did early in the third quarter against the Clippers. They have to keep the pace slow, keep their turnover rate down and force guards to shoot over the length of the Lakers. The Thunder are not a great three point shooting team (33 percent as a unit), with James Harden and Kevin Durant as their only real threats from behind the arch. The Lakers have to keep guys like Russell Westbrook and Eric Maynor out of the paint in the half court.

Offensively, the Lakers must be patient, but quick. When the Lakers start rushing things is when they have unforced errors that lead to turnovers. When they start moving into their 1-on-1 individualistic offense, the team efficiency declines. So quick ball movement, but patient within their offense will keep this younger and smaller group off of their heels. Too many turnovers or too many missed shots could prove to be the demise of the Lakers tonight. As we saw during that first round match up last season, if you give these kids an inch, they’ll take a foot. A heavy dose of Gasol-Bynum-Odom is going to be necessary against such an undersized team. Of course, this is much easier said than done, but it can be done.

Where you can watch:  7:30pm start time on TNT. Also listen live on ESPN Radio 710am.

Phillip Barnett

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45 responses to Preview and Chat: The Oklahoma City Thunder

  1. This one’s for Warren! I hope the crowd gets up for this game! Let’s do it Lakers!

  2. Kobe did NOT airball the shot against oklahoma,that was against phoenix.
    Get your facts straight,and a good article anyway!

  3. All I can say is that I hope ALL the Lakers come out to play for 48 minutes. At this point, I’ll just settle for some effort since offensive and defensive execution against good teams seems like a lot to ask of this current Laker team.

  4. Leftover business from the debacle vs the Clips.

    Artest and Griffin had their T’s recinded. The techs for Odom and Davis stand.

    Just wondering: Are more techs than ever recinded, and if so, why?

  5. Here we go, a battle against a GOOD team. This is also a young team that is good on the road. I am still convinced the 7 game win streak has been more to the fact we have played bad teams. So hopefully tonights game and the tough games to come prove me wrong.

  6. This game is going to boil down to offensive execution. If the Lakers execute and put the ball in the basket, then that means few turnovers which will negate OKC ability to score in transition. I think Phil just start Kobe on Westbrook and Kobe should play the role of the facilitator early to get everyone in a grove.

    This is a big game, no excuses. The Lakers have not played well against quality opponents and tonight is the first of many to come in the ensuing weeks. So I hope the Lakers show some championship mettle and come out with a win.

  7. Dwight Howard and Bynum share the same disease…”The ref’s hate-me-itis”

    It’s ridiculous how many times Howard gets fouled and doesn’t get a call. Drew just looks at a player and gets called for a foul. Go Lakers!

  8. I am looking forward to this game and a tough battle that will hopefully result in a win, especially after the result of the Magic/Celtics game. I mean, a Laker win is necessary now to make my weekend OK, basketball wise that is.

  9. I like Pau being aggressive, but he really needs to make those gimmes.

    In an unrelated note, I don’t think that when they were inventing HD tv’s that they had Nenad Kristic’s bald spot in mind.

  10. Decent start on the offensive end, but Durant’s hot start has me more than a little concerned. Can’t be giving him 5 FTs in a quarter…

  11. blake playing really badly

  12. the difference in how each teams runs a fastbreak is pretty remarkable

  13. Disappointing bench play so far

  14. i finally realized that if we had a normal point guard we would be unbeatable. i c all these teams fronting the post and all these open lanes that fisher wont take since he is probably gonna get blocked

  15. need a better plan for westbrook pick and rolls

  16. 15. The absolutely need a better plan. When Ibaka is the screener Lamar needs to step up and force Westbrook out on the those screens and allow the defense time to rotate.

  17. Nice Dish Bean!

  18. That’s twice now Pau has given up 2 sure rebounds and let Westbrook take them from him instead. He is far too nonchalant.

  19. Gasol has been terrible on the defensive glass. He needs to start snatching the ball out the air and holdings his elbows high, just like artest did.

  20. Phil Jackson refuses to make an adjustment on how he wants his bigs to defend the P and R with Westbrook and Ibaka. Westbrook has scored about 5 times on that same exact play. Man its frustrating watching the lakers on the defensive end because teams score so easily on them.

  21. 19 – I agree. I’d also advocate for a stronger show by the bigs on the pick and roll, plus Kobe needs to do a better job of anticipating the screen and coming over it. It seems like a pretty logical tactical adjustment for the second half.

    At the same time, it’s a little disheartening to realize that our team simply doesn’t guard the pick and roll effectively, or in some cases, at all.

  22. Draining treys… I love it.

  23. These last four minutes are critical. This was the same point in the Clippers game where we let up and opened the door for a lot of layups and 3s, and of course, it came back to get us.

  24. Here is an interesting stat. The Lakers are 24-2 when they score 100 plus points. That pretty much means that the key for them to win is very efficient offense, which they obviously have tonight.

  25. @ Joe, all that stat shows is that they are 24-2 when they score 100 plus points, not about offensive efficiency.

    on a side note, why is TNT zooming in on the ball handler?? i swear I cannot see the weak side of the floor and it is irritating.

    what else is irritating, okc’s run…

  26. why do refs hate Bynum so much

  27. we’re floating above water by making tough shots… not enough on the inside…

  28. De javu ala lal vs lac? Hope not!

  29. Idk Ray, The Lakers are one of the top teams in the league in offensive efficiency anyway. The key is can they keep that up against these good teams coming up.

  30. @joe, i don’t doubt that when the lakers have a high offensive efficiency night, they’ll win, but your stat doesn’t show that. it just shows a record for when they score 100 points. you make the inference that high scoring means high efficiency, which might be true, but thats not what the stat shows.

    im sure you’re right. when they have high offensive efficiency nights, they win, but im sure that is true of most teams in the league.

  31. Well what I did not mention is that their 24-2 stat is the most impressive for any team that scores over a 100. So we can imply that the biggest key factor to this team playing well and winning is their offense. Normally when the Lakers are executing their offense, their defense plays better too, because they are much tougher to score against in the half court.

  32. Do the Lakers want to lose? Down the stretch, two consecutive turnovers, a missed fadeway jumper by gasol, an air ball by artest and a missed freethrow by kobe.

    * 3 missed freethrows by Kobe.

  33. @ joe,

    agreed.

  34. wow that was some serious self sabotage down the stretch

  35. What this game showed me is that the Lakers are good, but are from from being the dominant team they can be. Westbrook tore them up but that should come as no surprise.

  36. These are good teams playing in the NBA today. Nothing is a walk in the park.

    Besides, the Lakers have 1) been playing a lot of basketball over the last 3.5 years and 2) have been using the same system for many years – the opponents have a slight idea of our strengths and weaknesses.

    We can’t just expect the ball to go our way all the time. Still, we won, so no complaints from me.

  37. Craig brings good perspective. The Lakers are basically done with the “easy” teams. From here on out they will be playing high quality opponents. I know we want to see perfect ball games. However, when there is an excellent opponent on the other side of the ball perfect games become a pipe dream.

    I also want to expand upon his point. The Lakers’ Triangle Offense is probably the most studied offense in the league. Teams know the basics of what the Lakers want to do. The offense is a great tool, but it doesn’t cause the Lakers to roll over opponents. Superior talent is what caused the Lakers to roll over the competition in the past. As fatigue and age sets in on our guys the Triangle has become easier to disrupt.

    So lets appreciate a gritty win by the team. My guess is all Lakers wins against the top teams will be ugly wins. And that’s fine with me.

  38. The Win of the Year.

    The best they have looked for an entire game against a legit opponent. When Pau hit the jumper to put them up 98-88, I said to myself, “This is the team that won the last two championships. It’s been a while since they’ve been around.” Yes, there was still plenty to nitpick about (Bynum needs to stay on the floor so that his good games are ones in which he dominates for 30-35 minutes instead of the 20-24 minutes we usually get. Isn’t that a wonderful problem to have?) but overall they looked good, they made the plays they needed to, and they played with conviction and focus. Well, done, boys.

  39. Good win indeed, I also liked the feeling I got when Pau hit the J, and then we were up 10.

  40. I’m not sure how it looked on the tube, but at the game it felt like the Thunder were running a drill against the Lakers. They had a lot of dunks and layups. On the offensive end the refs were letting defenders play very, ummm, aggressively against Pau and Andrew.

    One of the biggest contrasts I noticed between the teams was how tentative the Lakers seemed on every pass and shot. It’s like they are thinking too much and not flowing. The Thunder players passes were crisp. They knew what they wanted to do.

    Oh… And Westbrook seems about 20x as fast in person. Holy Toledo.

  41. @41. Yes – Fish, Ron Ron, and Shannon all double-clutched on open threes, waited for the defender to get closer, then put up contested shots.

    @7, 26, 39, 41. Agreed…Drew has become the designated Laker whipping boy for the officials. He gets called for fouls on defense for breathing on post players and for holding his ground when a guard runs into him, and on offense it’s open season on his arms and wrists when he goes up for a shot. My guess is it’s because he’s still a young player, and he…umm…strenuously objects to every call against him.

  42. I’m not going to give the Lakers 5 stars quite yet, but Kobe was terrific nearly all night in contributing to team chemistry. Ultimately, Laker game plan execution trumped Thunder enthusiasm.

  43. You could tell by the beginning of the whistle the Lakers were amped up for this game.

    Their attention to defense was noticeable than in other dog games.

    Was very impressed with the group effort to contest jumpers, especially on Durant. Artest was draped on him but when he wasn’t Gasol and others were glad to step up and throw a hand to take Durant out of his comfort zone.

    Kobe was getting in a groove towards the end of the game, but again took the rest of his team out of the game. They were up 10 and then threw away the offense. They cleared the right side and allowed Kobe to go one on one. No offense was run and Kobe was stripped, which led to a fast break and eventually cut the game to 4.

    Just get it in the post a little more, then with 8 seconds left go for your one on one offense, Kobe!

    Shannon was rushing the entire night, had some nice pull up jumpers but was antsy and displayed poor handling.

    Love the win! Everyone contributed, was a well fought battle, everything that was missing in the Clippers game.