Let’s look at some of the facts:
- The Lakers were coming in a sub-.500 team at 9-10
- The Thunder were on a 6 game winning-streak, by an average of 18+ points.
- The game was in Oklahoma City.
- The Lakers were missing 2 of their top 4 players.
Needless to say, winning this game would’ve been highly unexpected. As was said in the preview, the Lakers were going to need a near perfect game from almost everyone in order to keep the game close, let alone win. Such was not the case, and the result was a much closer than it should have been, 114-108 loss.
The Lakers two remaining stars, Kobe and Dwight, needed to have monster games for the Lakers to have a chance. Both played pretty well, Dwight shooting 9-17 (including 5-7 from the free throw line) for 23 points and 18 rebounds, including 6 offensive. However, Dwight had 10 rebounds after the 1st Quarter, so finishing with only 18 seems like a disappointing follow-through to a terrific first quarter effort that saw the Lakers holding a slim, 27-26 lead. Kobe tried to keep the Lakers in the game, shooting 11-24 for 35 points and 7 assists, running the offense almost completely as he had for the past few games. However, he often got himself into trouble in the lane, having to put up a number of difficult shots and giving up the ball for 5 turnovers.
The real story of the game, however, was the Thunder stars. Kevin Durant was solid and efficient as he has been this entire season, going for 36 points on 10-19 shooting, including 14-16 from the line and 2-4 from three. Russell Westbrook also went supernova in the 1st half, making his first 4 threes, with 27 points on 10-16 in the 1st half alone. The Thunder role players were also efficient in their contributions, with Nick Collison, Serge Ibaka, and Kevin Martin shooting 5-7, 7-14, and 4-8 respectively. While the Lakers did manage to make it close in the end, this game was lost in the 2nd quarter when the Lakers had absolutely no answer for Westbrook, pulling up and making threes off the dribble. And really, no one does.
The Lakers also needed at least one or two more players to have good nights to have a chance. While Jodie Meeks finished with 17 points on 4-8 shooting, most of it came too late when the came was already mostly decided. The Thunder did let what was once a 19 point lead down to a 4 point lead late in the 4th, but they had basically checked out of the game by the 6 minute mark. But Jamison and MWP, the other two guys the Lakers needed to have decent nights, were fairly poor, only making 1 out of 9 threes, a combined 6-17 for 17 points. On a night when the Lakers needed to be perfect, these two were very much below average.
Overall, there weren’t too many positives or negatives to take away from this game. The Thunder showed that as of now, with all the circumstances surrounding the Lakers roster and health, that they were simply a much, much better team. The Lakers defense was still porous, allowing the Thunder to shoot almost 49% from the field and almost 53% from 3, which made it even more of a miracle that the Lakers were anywhere close in the end. Yes, the Lakers looked like they were outclassed by a superior team, but that’s just the truth at this moment. Whether it will be in the future is a different story, but this game unfolded exactly in the way many expected it would. The Lakers fought to the very end, closing to within 4 with seconds left in the game, showing some heart and fight that we hadn’t seen in previous games. But in the end, the Lakers are now 9-11, and are still looking for answers to several questions:
- Even when Steve Nash returns, how are they going to improve on defense? Smite-a-Dwight will always remain a threat, and so long as the Laker defense remains horrible in the clutch, they will always be vulnerable.
- What sort of defensive system can be put in place? The Lakers are getting destroyed by simply PNR and curl actions into the lane, and their help rotations have been terrible in covering Dwight’s man when Dwight leaves to help. The Lakers seem to be genuinely trying on defense, they’re just out of position a lot of the time. This speaks to a lack of system.
- The Lakers are extremely vulnerable in transition, so should they sacrifice offensive rebound opportunities to get back on defense?
- Will the bench ever be a consistent force? Jamison and Meeks are keys, but until we get consistent production from one or both of them, the Lakers will be a team haunted by depth issues.
Many of these questions probably won’t be answered for at least another month. In the mean time, the Lakers are only slipping further down the slope.
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