I try not to be the dramatic type or succumb to hyperbole, but the Lakers could easily lose this game by 30+ points tonight. The Thunder hold the league’s best record, have won 13 of their last 15 games, and post the NBA’s 2nd best efficiency differential at +8.3 per game. Not only are they a true contender, but they have been doing most of this damage without Russell Westbrook who has only played in 25 of the team’s 54 games.
The Lakers, meanwhile, are…well…not very good. We’ve gone over this a bunch so it doesn’t bear repeating. Tonight they’ll be without Steve Nash and will only have 8 players available to play. They’re likely to start both Steve Blake and Kendall Marshall in the back court, meaning both are likely to play heavy minutes as they alternate between playing on or off the ball most of the night.
The play of those two, however, isn’t really my concern. Though Blake has struggled with his shot since he came back from his elbow injury, he’s brought an effort and competitiveness on defense that this team lacked. And while Marshall’s numbers have dipped some with his reduction in minutes, he’s still bringing skill and playmaking to help prop up the team’s offense when he’s on the floor. So while these guys will have their hands full chasing around Reggie Jackson and dealing with Jeremy Lamb, they’re two of the more “consistent” performers on the team in terms of what they bring to the table each night.
Where my concerns lie, then, are with the other perimeter players. Namely, with Wes Johnson, Ryan Kelly, and Shawne Williams as they’re the trio of guys who will be tasked with guarding Kevin Durant. Notice I didn’t say “slow” or “contain” Durant, because at this point those things really aren’t possible. No, they’ll be “guarding” him as he undoubtedly goes for 30 points on a ridiculously low number of field goal attempts and a high number of trips to the foul line. This is who Durant is, now. He has entered that rare zone where regardless of defense or strategy, his numbers are achieved. The only question is if he has one of those special nights that lights up twitter and the post game highlight packages.
This isn’t to negate what Wes or Williams (who, I think, will actually be the best defender on KD tonight) can do defensively. It’s just Durant is that good.
Anyways, this brings me back to my original point. The Thunder are worlds better than this version of the Lakers. Not only do they have the best player, they have the best four or five players tonight. I think Kaman can get some numbers offensively against Perkins or either of the Nick Collison/Steven Adams duo and I think Marshall can create some looks out of the P&R to get Blake, Wes, and the Kelly/Williams PF combo some open threes. But these shots would have to fall at an astronomically high rate (think the Cavs game), for this game to be close at the end. Can it happen? Sure. Do I expect it to? No. No, I don’t.
As an aside, if the Lakers do lose tonight it will be their 7th consecutive home loss this season. That would be the longest home losing streak the Lakers have had since coming to Los Angeles, breaking a tie with the 1993 team that lost six consecutive games at the old Forum. Not exactly the type of record you want to break. Alas, this is what this season has become.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TNT. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.