I’m still pretty much bedridden with a cold, so excuse the short preview today. I’ll try to catch the game, but more than likely will not. Thanks for the understanding. Hope you enjoy the game.
While the Lakers’ record accurately reflects the type of team they are, it should also be noted that they are also changing from what they were early in the year. Over the first 20 games or so, the Lakers’ record was mostly the product of Kobe’s struggles, the inability of the young players to find any consistency, a team not grasping its schemes, and truly bad defense.
Over the last 5 or so games, things have subtly shifted. Kobe is playing better — in some games much better — than he was earlier in the year. The young players are still struggling with consistency, but are better grasping the schemes and are experiencing higher highs (especially Russell) than at any point in the first 20 games. However, the rotations are still dodgy and the defense is still awful.
In other words, the Lakers are still a bad team but are a different type of bad than they showed earlier. I’m not honestly sure how much this matters, but I’m sure it does. At least they’re more watchable.
What this means for today is…well, trouble. The Thunder, despite some bench issues and adjustment to a new coach, have the 3rd best efficiency differential in the league. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are both playing like top 5 players in the league, both boasting PER’s near (or above) 30. Both are taking over games and demolishing opponents.
The Lakers have no one to really guard either of these guys. If Kobe was 5 years younger, maybe he could stay with Durant somewhat. Clarkson has athleticism, but he’s not near the athlete Westbrook nor does he have the defensive acumen to track him all over the floor and stay with him consistently. Further, if the Thunder go to P&R heavy sets, the Lakers’ strategy of sagging well below the pick will not only give OKC’s guys space to shoot open jumpers (which they can make), but will also give them the room to turn the corner and look to attack the paint. It’s the latter that should most concern as both Westbrook and Durant can get Hibbert in foul trouble and still score at the rim through contact.
Offensively the Lakers can hope to keep up through efficient scoring of their own, but that will be tough with OKC’s starters on the floor. The front line of Adams and Ibaka do well to blockade the paint and the length of Durant, Roberson, and Westbrook gives perimeter players issues. The Lakers’ best hope is to knock down three pointers consistently and hit enough mid-range jumpers to make the defense defend close enough to enable drives from 18-feet and in that generate shots at the rim.
Another key will be controlling the backboards. OKC is one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the league and guys like Adams, Kanter, and, from the guard spot, Westbrook love to get on the glass to get extra possessions. The Lakers can be prone to surrendering extra shots and if that happens today, the Thunder will punish them with makes after extending possessions. If the Lakers are to have any chance tonight, they will not only need an initial stop, but will need to end possessions with rebounds rather than resetting their defense.
Where you can watch: 2pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.