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It’s April 22, 2012 and the (40-24) Los Angeles Lakers host the (46-17) Oklahoma City Thunder at the Staples Center. The Spurs beat the Lakers soundly for the second time in nine days. Sunday’s matinee game against the Thunder gives the Lakers the opportunity to bounce back, win a game against an elite opponent, and gain some momentum before the start of the post season.

It is ironic that the Lakers will end the regular season matching up against the top two teams in the Western Conference.

Entering this season the Lakers had taken six straight season series from the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Lakers trail the season series against the Thunder (0-2), after taking last season’s series from Oklahoma City, going 3-1 against the Thunder in 2009-2010, sweeping the 2008-2009 series (3-0) and 2007-2008 (4-0). L.A. won the 2006-2007 (3-1) and 2005-2006 (2-1) season series.

The Lakers are 8-2 in their last 10 games at home against the OKC Thunder, losing their last at Staples Center after winning eight straight. The Thunder are 21-11 on the road, while the Lakers are 25-7 at the Staples Center.

The last time the Lakers played the Thunder it was literally a tale of two halves; in the first half, L.A. got off to a fast start building a 12-point lead at one point, only to see their big lead cut to five by halftime.

In the second half, after shooting poorly to start the game, the Thunder sparked by Derek Fisher’s inspired performance caught fire. Russell Westbrook (17-points on 6-of-10 shooting) alone outscored the Lakers in the third quarter. The Thunder pushed their lead to 19 and ran past the Lakers in a 102-93 win.

The Lakers have already lost the season series to the Thunder, but L.A. has to prove that they can beat OKC. The Lakers defense has to make some adjustments. Teams are taking advantage of the Lakers pick-and-roll defense, L.A. has to find a way to avoid switching defenders on this play to avoid placing Ramon Sessions in a mis-match guarding a bigger player.

It is imperative that the Lakers maintain floor balance in their transition defense. In their half court defense, L.A.’s secondary help has been non-existent. To avoid a season sweep at the hands of the Thunder, the Lakers have to rise to the occasion and put on one of their best performances of the year.

L.A. has to limit the impact of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden and not leave Derek Fisher alone on the perimeter. The Lakers have to take care of the ball, control the tempo, play defense without fouling, out-rebound OKC, play with a sense of urgency and execute on offense. L.A. needs good ball movement, excellent player movement a total team effort with a solid contribution from everyone. Today’s game will have an effect on the standing in the Western Conference. Head Coach Mike Brown has to expand the rotation and provide Andrew Goudelock, Darius Morris, Devin Ebanks and Jordan Hill what every player needs, minutes and opportunities.

Lakers: R. Sessions, K. Bryant, M. Peace, P. Gasol, A. Bynum
Thunder:
R. Westbrook, T. Sefolosha, K. Durant, S. Ibaka, K. Perkins  

Tip-off: 12:30 PM PST

Television

  • Los Angeles: ABC
  • Oklahoma City: ABC

Radio

  • Los Angeles: 710 ESPN (John Ireland & Mychal Thompson)
  • Oklahoma City: 640 AM & 98.1 FM (Matt Pinto)

Injuries

Lakers:

  • Kobe Bryant (Tenosynovitis, Left Shin) Probable
  • Ramon Sessions (Sprained Left Shoulder, AC Joint) Probable

      Thunder:

  • Eric Maynor (Torn Right ACL) Out