Records: Lakers 30-30 (9th in the West), Thunder 43-16 (2th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 107.7 (8th in the NBA), Thunder 112.8 (1st in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.4 (16th in the NBA), Thunder 102.9 (8th in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Earl Clark, Dwight Howard
Thunder: Russell Westbroo, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins
Injuries: Lakers: Pau Gasol (out), Jordan Hill (out for the season); Thunder: None
Thunder Blogs: Make sure you’re keeping up with Daily Thunder for all of your OKC news.
Keys to the Game: Coming into tonight’s match up against the Thunder, it’s hard to expect the Lakers to record only the fifth win for a road team in Oklahoma City this year. The Thunder have been nearly unbeatable at home — and in two of the three games this season — have been much better than the Lakers on the floor. It took a rough shooting night from both Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant (the combined for 33 percent from the field) and six Lakers to score in double figures to squeak out a win at home. However, should the Lakers win tonight, it would be a humungous boost in their quest for a playoff spot. They’ve been getting some help from the other teams vying for the last two spots out west (thanks, Utah!) and they’ve been helping themselves with their 5-1 record since the All-Star break. A loss to the Thunder tonight wouldn’t be devastating, but they really could use a big win. Let’s take a look at some of the factors that will need to go in the Lakers direction tonight for another win against OKC.
One of the reasons that the Lakers were so successful against the Thunder in their last meeting was because of the less than stellar performance from Russell Westbrook. Russ didn’t just shoot six-for-22 from the field, but he took myriad terrible shots while he tried to find his rhythm that essentially pushed him further away from his groove with each attempt. He took a lot of shots that we aren’t used to seeing Russ take — the two post-up fade aways over Nash that both missed badly immediately come to mind. Westbrook was also taking a lot of mid-to-long range jump shots early on, which helped the Lakers tremendously. Westbrook is one of those guys who, if he finds an early rhythm, he’s damn near impossible to contain. Fortunately, the Lakers were able to minimize their turnovers (only 13) and didn’t take too many long range shots. And when they did (four of the five transition layups Westbrook attempted were a result of a missed three pointer or a turnover), the Lakers were able to get back in transition and contest his shots at the rim. If you take a look at Westbrook’s shot chart, it’s exactly what you want to see. Lots of medium and mid-ranged jump shots and more misses than makes around the rim. A lot of this can be attributed to Westbrook’s poor shot selection, but the Lakers, namely Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, did a great job of protecting the rim as he tried to get buckets in the paint.
The Lakers are also going to need a huge contribution off the bench if they’re going to be successful in Oklahoma City. In each of the last two games against the Thunder, the Lakers bench has outplayed the Thunder bench. On January 11, Kevin Martin scored 15 points, but was neutralized by Antwan Jamison’s 19 points and 10 rebounds off the bench. In the Lakers win, Pau Gasol and Jamison combined for 28 points on 11-for-16 shooting. According to hoopsstats.com, the efficiency differential in each of those games was a positive one for the Lakers bench (+19 in the loss, +6 in the win). Tonight, the Lakers bench will be without Pau Gasol, Jordan Hill (injured) or Earl Clark (starting), so it’s going to be essential for Jamison to step up and be the lone Lakers big off the bench. It’ll also be essential for Jodie Meeks and Steve Blake to knock down the open shots that they’ll likely receive. Meeks, Jamison and Blake have played relatively well since the All-Star Break, they’ll have to continue trending up if the Lakers are going to pull out a win tonight.
What might be the most important aspect to tonight’s match up will be how the Lakers defend Kevin Durant. In the previous match up, Earl Clark and Ron Artest split time as the primary defender on Durant with shocking results. Clark had a much better night guarding the league’s defending scoring champ, holding him to seven points on 3-for-11 shooting. When Ron got the assignment? Durant did most of his heavy lifting hitting five of 10 shots for 11 points. The staggering difference between the two lies in Ron’s declining foot speed and the added length with Clark as the defender. Clark did a great job of running Durant off of his spots, going over screens and closing out on jump shots (the one three that Durant did make, Clark got sucked in on a Westbrook drive). With Ron guarding Durant, Scott Brooks had Durant play off the ball a lot more and ran him through a series of screen. Down the stretch, Brooks didn’t run Durant much, but put Ron and Earl in off-ball screen situations to create the favorable match up for Durant.
Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on TNT. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.