1. Kevin Durant had one of the most effortless 40-point games we’ve ever seen in his last trip to the Staples Center. What can the Lakers change to slow him down today?
Dave Murphy: Effortless is right. He’s got the slinkiest game in the NBA. My initial and most ridiculous thought is to live with the easy outside shots but he’ll just rise up and rain down 3′s. The only prayer is to try and deny him the ball and that’s nothing new. Metta’s had some luck in the past – body him, crowd him, show him your hands. You obviously need help off his post-ups and spin-moves. Duhon’s actually pretty good at rotating over when a teammate gets beat off the dribble and smaller guards can sometimes get up under him. Also, Dwight was out of action the last time around so that should help at the basket.
I love the use of “effortless” in the question, because no term better describes that which makes KD so devastating. However it happens, getting slapped with 40 is disheartening. Feeling like the dude that torched you barely broke a sweat doing it? That’s backbreaking.
My inclination here is to suggest that the Lakers look to one end or the other of the strategic spectrum. Either hyper-aggressive overplaying – I’m talking doubles, triples, traps, tasers, whatever – in the hope that Durant’s resulting loss of rhythm (and, hopefully, production) takes the rest of the team out of its comfort zone. This is something of a tightrope walk, as, unfortunately, Russell Westbrook remains in the Thunder’s employ, but, hey, it’s worth a shot. Right?
On the other hand, the Lakers might look to make an all-out, almost comedic commitment to neutralizing the rest of the OKC attack and casting Durant as ’06 Kobe. Problems arise here as, for any difference in wiring between Kobe and KD, give either 50, and he’s a good bet to take 65. And, again, Russ is liable to serve up 25 of his own.
If pressed, I’d pick the former option and hope it lures out the Lakers’ greatest ally in their quest to slow down Durant – Bad Russ.
Phillip Barnett: I, unfortunately, got to witness Durant’s 40 points live. Effortless may be an understatement as it only felt like he had 20-something by the time I got a text asking what it was like watching Durant score 40 through three quarters. Ron did pretty much everything within his power to keep Durant at bay, but it simply wasn’t enough. Forcing him to work harder off the ball could help. Have guys bump him off of screens and having Ron over play passes on the perimeter and deny passes everywhere else should help. Also, there was no Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard or Jordan Hill in the previous match up. While there will still be no Hill today, forcing Durant to shoot over our length should help in keeping his numbers ungodly.
2. Both Kobe Bryant and Russell Westbrook had season highs in assist in their last game (14 each), which team would be better off with their man playing the facilitator role?
Phillip: It’s hard to expect Kobe to record a near triple double every night, especially not that many assists. In a perfect world, Kobe would have somewhere between five and eight assists on any given night with Nash taking the brunt of the load facilitating the ball — but Kobe being able to make plays against Utah really opened things up for Nash to get his points. For the Lakers, a happy medium of Kobe facilitating and Kobe shooting would be the best. For Oklahoma City, at least against the Lakers, they may be better served with Westbrook looking for his shoot. With Durant scoring 40 through three quarters the last time they met at Staples, the Lakers defense is likely going to be keying in on KD (not like they weren’t before) and could mean some easier scoring opportunities for Russ — and you don’t want a guy turning away easy looks just to be able to get the ball to his teammates.
3. If the Lakers are going to win, who is going to have to be the x-factor, and in what way?
Dave: I never thought I’d refer to Pau Gasol as an X-factor but if he’s coming off the bench than it is what it is. Like Dwight, he was out of action last time against the Thunder and he’s going to be needed. Pau had a strong game offensively on Friday – seven out of eight in 25 minutes. I’m not sure when or if D’Antoni is actually going to embrace the strengths of this team, rather than simply tolerating them in short-minute situations. Gasol has faced OKC as much as anyone in the league – sometimes successfully, sometimes not. But he’s got the experience and if that somehow makes him an X-factor against this team, so be it.
Emile: Nash. A lot is made (rightfully) of his inability to defending opposing lead guards. Russell Westbrook has that effect on pretty much every defender, everywhere, so suffice it to say the situation here is somewhat exacerbated.
Let’s not kid ourselves, the idea that Steve Nash’s defense will effectively slow Russ – Good or Bad – is more hallucinogenic than it is quaint. There is, however, a way in which the Lakers’ #PointGod can slow his opposite number. Literally.
For all the talk of whether or not Westbrook is a “true” point guard and the constant, ongoing judgment of his floor generalship, Russ never seems to have an issue controlling the tempo of a game. If the Lakers are going to stay competitive and have a legitimate chance of stealing this game, Nash must dictate the tempo at which it’s played.
Phillip: For me, I think the X-Factor has to be Earl Clark. The Last time these two teams met, Clark was one of the bright spots, recording his second double-double of the season (10 points, 10 assists) during that stretch with the Lakers top three bigs all out with injuries. If Clark can come off the bench with similar production with both Howard and Gasol in the lineup tonight, that can go a long way in terms of the Lakers keeping this close and ultimately winning. At this point, a Lakers win is a long shot, but if Clark can come off the bench and be an energy guy who cleans up the glass with the second unit, the Lakers could find themselves in a position to win this game late in the fourth.