With all the hubbub about Kobe being ruled out for the rest of the season and Phil Jackson looking like he will go to the Knicks, it might be easy to forget that the Lakers have a game tonight.
The good news is that the Lakers are well rested and are coming off a win. The bad news is that they are traveling to Oklahoma City to play the same team they just upset on national television. In other words, if the Lakers were hoping to sneak into OKC and take advantage of a team who won’t take them seriously, that ship sailed when the final buzzer on Sunday went off with the Lakers in the lead.
So expect this game to go much differently than the one four days ago. Namely:
- Don’t expect Jodie Meeks to shake free for so many open jumpers
- Don’t expect the Durant/Westbrook duo to shoot 15 for 42 from the floor
- Don’t expect OKC to rely so heavily on the three (they took 35 shots from behind the arc last game) for their offense
What I also don’t expect is for the Thunder to play as small as they did for as long as they did in the last game. In Sunday’s contest Steven Adams and Nick Collison combined to play a little under 22 minutes. This led to Durant logging a lot of minutes at PF and Serge Ibaka sliding up to play a lot of Center. However, with Ibaka guarding Pau he was less of a threat as a weak side helper defensively and had to do much more on ball work against Pau in the post. Pau didn’t necessarily take advantage of him down there, but it did mean that the Thunder had less help in the paint with the result being a more spread out D that yielded too many open jumpers against good Lakers’ ball movement.
Tonight I think OKC plays more traditional lineups for longer with more size up-front to not only try to limit Pau down low, but to give them the help they need on the back line that allows them to better chase the Lakers’ perimeter threats. Even low level scouting tells you that the Lakers need to hit a high number of threes to win any game and if the Thunder need to, they will likely start to overplay on those types of shots to make L.A. do more work off the dribble and finish over size when going to the basket.
Offensively, I also expect the Thunder to try and push the tempo a bit more and get easier opportunities to score in transition. Look for Westbrook and Reggie Jackson to try and get to the rim in the open court and if those chances aren’t there to pull the ball back and look for Durant and Ibaka as trailers near the three point line. Both are more than capable of hitting open jumpers and if Durant is a guy who goes unguarded on too many possessions he can easily get points in bunches to make the Lakers pay.
For the Lakers, then, the only thing they can really do is try to play their game in a way that keeps the Thunder off balance enough that the game remains close. That will be much harder today since Sunday’s game is so fresh on everyone’s mind and the Thunder will surely be looking to snuff out what the Lakers do best early and send them onto plan B. Whether the Lakers have enough to overcome or counter that is the big question, but based off this year’s results I think we know the answer is likely “no”.
Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on TNT and TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.