Lost Game #1: Lakers vs Thunder

Darius Soriano —  November 1, 2011

Tonight should be opening night. It should be a time filled with anticipation and excitement. Butterflies should be in your stomach as we get ready to watch a slate of games that should have included the Lakers’ first home game against a prime Thunder team. Instead, there’s silence, emptiness, and depression. And though I truly believe an end to the lockout is in sight, I also believe stubborn blind men sit at that negotiating table grasping for everything they can get their mitts on save for the agreement in front of them. So, with sadness, I proceed as if there were a season starting anyway and offer up a game preview for a contest that won’t happen. This is what it’s come to for me.

Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest Metta World Peace, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Thunder: Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins
Injuries: Lakers: none, however Andrew Bynum is suspended; Thunder: none

The Lakers Coming in: A hunger in the eyes of the dethroned champs is balanced by an adjustment to new surroundings. Gone is the Zen Master and his calming, stoic demeanor. In his place is Mike Brown and his exuberant approach to teaching his schemes on both sides of the ball. And while those schemes will be different, the Lakers must adjust on the fly and find out what works and what doesn’t rather quickly. The personnel is mostly unchanged (the rookies and 2nd year players don’t figure to play a prominent role early and the season) and lends itself to some familiarity in the changed environment. And the hope is that the Lakers rely mostly on their experience and the drive to overcome last year’s failings. A year ago was ring night and now the journey towards having that feeling again begins.

The Thunder Coming in: Conference finalists only a few months ago, expectations are now through the roof for the Thunder. There are no more excuses of youth and inexperience to lean on; this team will now only be judged on achieving their goals of advancing further than the year before or not. The excitement of what can be is now countered by the real weight of what could happen should failure occur.

But this team is primed for a run. Kevin Durant comes off a whirlwind summer of showing new skills and refined polish in exhibition games around the country. He’s now joined in the starting line up by James Harden who also flashed growth in his game last year and over the summer in many of those same pick up games. Add in Russell Westbrook’s ascension into the elite ranks of lead guards and OKC now possess a trio of wing players that can compete with any in the league. Yes, there are division of labor issues that need to be sorted out – and quickly – with Westbrook needing to prove early in this campaign that he’s capable of being distributor and fearless attacker when possessing the ball. No small feat, to be sure, but a step he’s more than capable of taking considering his talent level.

Thunder Blogs: Royce Young runs a great site in Daily Thunder. Check it out for all the news and analysis you can handle on that team.

Keys to game: Much how NFL games are won in the trenches, this contest will be won in the paint. Perkins mans the pivot on defense and will play his typical bruising style on defense and when attacking the glass. Ibaka, fresh off his stint as the third big man for Spain’s national team, will protect the basket when coming from the weakside to disrupt and alter shots. If the Lakers can successfully attack these two and either get them into foul trouble or score with good efficiency, OKC’s defense will need to collapse and it will open up more opportunities for Kobe, Artest, Odom, and Barnes to slash into the gaps and do even more damage 15 feet and in.

Meanwhile, the Lakers too must protect their paint by containing Westbrook and Harden off the bounce and in pick and roll situations. Both love to turn the corner off screens and get to the front of the rim. The Lakers P&R D will be tested early and often by those two and discipline will be needed to corral them when they possess the ball.

This is complicated by the attention that must be paid to Kevin Durant. Every screen he comes off requires at least one (and normally two) defenders shift his way. Any clean catch could mean a lightning quick jumper is released or a quick dribble into the paint that renders defensive strategy moot. Artest World Peace, Barnes, and Kobe will have their hands full bodying him off the ball to disrupt his movement while big men must hedge and recover on off ball actions in order to close down passing angles. Durant’s improved handle also mean he’s even more a threat in isolation than in season’s past. He will try to defenders down with an array of cross-overs once not a part of his repertoire, but now a fully developed weapon. Everyone’s head must be on a swivel whenever he’s on the court and the D cannot let him compromise their sets lest they want their entire scheme to fall apart like a sweater being undone when the loose thread is pulled.

The challenge goes beyond just the half court actions, however. History tells us the Thunder will push the ball at every opportunity against this aged Laker group. So, the Lakers must transition well from offense to defense and not force the types of shots that produce running chances because of long rebounds. Gasol and Odom will be key in this as they’ll need to not only contest the glass in an effort to gain extra possessions but also bust their rear ends back in transition to help clog the lane to deny Westbrook, Harden, and Durant lanes to finish at the rim.

Where you can watch: No where. (sobs)

Darius Soriano

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31 responses to Lost Game #1: Lakers vs Thunder

  1. Yes it is a sad reality that our beloved NBA will not have any games tonight. Dallas Mavericks fans have to wait before they can see their team receive their 2011 NBA Championship rings. And Lakers fans will not get to see Coach Mike Brown’s debut for at least another month.

    I already have withdrawal symptoms … and we have at least another 29 days of missed games before us.

    This sucks…

  2. I hate David Stern.

    I hate the NBA owners.

    At this point in time, I hate this game.

    Am I going to come back and watch?

    Eventually.

    I won’t be buying the NBA league pass this year though. A small gesture from one isolated fan, but that’s all I have.

  3. Not Charlie Rosen November 1, 2011 at 12:54 pm

    For Warren!

  4. This sucks.

    Though I guess I can just pretend that the Lakers beat OKC by forcing Sefolosha to take all of the shots while he was on the court (it was a pretty ugly performance offensively for the Thunder).

  5. This post is a brilliant concept, even if based on some pretty disconcerting circumstances.

    As for the specifics, among other things it reminds me about Bynum’s suspension. It’s not an enormous issue, maybe, but a shortened season does somewhat magnify the duration of his absence.

  6. So sad that there are no games tonight. Will miss the DDL chat about all the other games. Was looking forward to see how the Lakers looked under Mike Brown.

  7. We will miss Gasol getting pushed around by a big Center… We will miss Durant getting pushed around by a big “World” and we will miss the first average Lakers starting PG since Gary Payton ;). Anyone who thinks Mike Brown is going to start the season with Derek Fisher as his PG is as foolish as I am for thinking Phil Jackson wouldn’t.

  8. Darius – thanks for writing this. Yeah, the lockout sucks, every which way.. but it’s great to read about matchups and strategy. It made me start thinking about the game again. Excellent.

  9. Well, coming into this game, I really think the Lakers should trade Bynum. I mean, did you see him in preseason? As far as Gasol, well, that cat has to go too. And don’t get me started on …….. wait a minute. That’s right. We don’t have a season to watch and complain about yet.

  10. Thanks for sticking the knife in even deeper…

  11. #10. You’re welcome! Seriously though, I wasn’t sure if I was going to write this at all, but I’m tired of BRI splits, who’s at fault, and who’s conceding what. I want to think about actual basketball even if the NBA has taken the games away. So, I wrote it. Also, like a shooter putting up shots in a gym, I need to practice my craft. ;)

  12. FB&G pick up game. Have Darius do a write up and breakdown game and individual play.

    Lynching of Darius set for hour after the post is up.

  13. Darius:

    I understand…. really, I do…

    If you still feel somewhat unfulfilled, I have a business meeting tomorrow that will involve approximately ten people. You are welcome to explore the matchups if you’d like…

  14. I’d like to see Bynum average 20-20 this fantasy season.

    And yes, I would like to see a new starting PG, too.

  15. Well, at least in Oklahoma we got to see highlights of Durant playing intermural flag football at Oklahoma State last night.

    God, I just realized that I’m having a tough time hating on other teams (well, except the Heat), seeing as how we’re all united in hatred of the lockout.

  16. the other Stephen November 1, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    i wonder if andrew goudelock has been working on aspects of the game besides sniping from the halfcourt logo à la jordan farmar. i also wonder about darius morris, who could probably help him with those things and also benefit in return.

  17. 7:36…

    The first two shots of the season are Fisher threes?! Is Phil available?

  18. Great Post, it will have to do for now.

    “The thing to remember is that that the future comes one day at a time.” – Dean Acheson

  19. Virtual Lakers beat virtual Thunder coached by Hollinger in a Strat-O-Matic simulation game 103-97.
    Kobe had 22 points and 8 dimes

    Strat-O-Matic will conduct daily simulations of all games until lockout is over with box scores and standings at their website

    http://www.strat-o-matic.com/community/announcements/strat-o-matic-simulate-locked-out-2011-12-basketball-season

  20. Uh-oh! Kobe time!

    Thoughts:

    -Loving this defense World Peace has been playing all game long. The bodying-up D has been what we’ve come to expect, but I love the tenacity he’s showing fighting over Perkins’ moving screens.

    -Kobe’s looked good overall. I cringe when he tries to prove his manhood against Sefalosha, but after a rough start, he’s starting to hit a nice rhythm. Still too many jumpshots for my taste, but I guess at this point I have to accept that Kobe will not be driving during the regular season.

    -Not sure how I feel about the spacing in this new offense. Obviously it’s the first game and we need much more time to adjust, but there’s no real weak-side movement.

    -Watching Derek Fisher play makes me realize he spent the summer in hotel meetings rather than in the gym. He was gassed in the first quarter, and I’ve never seen that from him. An alternate explanation: he just sucks now.

    -Watching Steve Blake come off the bench and promptly airball his first two shots makes me hope the Cavs amnesty Baron Davis soon (no, I don’t think Davis is really a good solution … I dread some of the Gary Payton effect. But the triangle is gone and can Davis really be worse than what we’re seeing tonight?)

    Edit: I take back what I said about Fisher. Back to back threes to open the 4th quarter. INTANGIBLES!

    Overall, good energy and intensity for an opening night game. Looking forward to a great season and improving with every game.

  21. I predict the Lakers will be as good as any team this season: a perfect 0-0 record.

  22. now back to BRI splits and 50/50 vs 52/48.

  23. @20: brilliant.

  24. I couldn’t watch here in germany, did we win?

    I wanted to share this SI article about Brian Shaw in case you haven’t read it. It sheds some light on what is or rather was going on behind the scenes in the Lakers’ front office:

    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/writers/ian_thomsen/11/01/brian.shaw.lakers/index.html

    And if only half of what is written is true, my opinion of Shaw could not be higher.

  25. The Shaw article (and this one, via the Shaw interview, http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jul/22/sports/la-sp-lakers-layoffs-20110723) just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. For so long I felt there were unprofessional owners who treated their staff poorly and created a losing atmosphere, and I was just glad we had Jerry Buss at the helm. Now we get Jim Buss more and more involved, and you’re getting very unprofessional dismissals of guys that have given a lot of service to the organization. I get that it’s the simple story. It could just be a media trend, but based on these interviews and actual experiences of former Lakers employees (Shaw and Lester), I tend to think these gripes are legitimate.

    This is why I hate ego. You’re trying to distance yourself from only the most legendary coach in NBA history? And anyone associated with him or his system? Please. Comedy writers couldn’t make this stuff up.

  26. Snoopy2006,
    Many stories are published to get hits. While there may be a kernel of something there, the story has often been embellished to draw in more people.

    After that, people just tend to pile on.

    My solution is to read a few trusted sources and then only read stories that sound like they are there for facts, not just gossip splash. Saves me time and emotional pain.

  27. Box score: http://assets.espn.go.com/photo/2011/1101/nba_e_laokcbox2.pdf

    Looks like they let Andrew play afterall!

  28. Craig – I agree. But what’s written in there is mostly interviews. Meaning if there was embellishing done, it’s coming from Shaw and Lester, not from the writers. I don’t count the Shaw article as typical media gossip.

    Thomsen does an excellent job of not getting in the way of the interview, and simply filling in factual details. So while I generally agree with you, I’m not sure this article fits the mold.

  29. Well technically speaking, after the first night of games, Derek Fisher’s PER is the same as Lebron James’s. Take that Aaron. ;-)

  30. Darius, what are your thoughts on shaq’s book and his comments about kobe and pat riley.