(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

It is March 29, 2012 and the Pacific Division leading (31-19) Los Angeles Lakers face the Northwest Division leading (38-12) Oklahoma City Thunder. The Lakers were able to rely on Kobe Bryant down the stretch to beat the Golden State Warriors 104-101 on a Magic day in L. A., as former Laker Magic Johnson becomes the face of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

There has been a lot of talk in L.A. surprisingly suggesting that Head Coach Mike Brown might be losing the team. Brown has raised eyebrows for recently benching both All-Stars. This would not be an issue if Phil Jackson or Gregg Popovich benched a player. Mike Brown is not as tenured as Jackson or Popovich nor has he had that level of success, but he is in the process of managing egos in his first year as head coach of the Lakers. There have been a few instances where it appears that Andrew Bynum is testing the substitute teacher, so to speak.

Contrary to popular belief, the Andrew Bynum benching was for more than his ill-advised three-point shot.

Call it a lack of focus or an attempt to prove something, but it appears that Andrew Bynum is feeling himself. The fact of the matter is that Andrew Bynum has been outstanding on both ends of the court, become a reliable force in the paint this season. However, Bynum has not been producing consistently defensively or on the boards. Bynum was averaging 13 rebounds a game, in the last five he is averaging 6.4 per game.

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

There are 16 games remaining in the regular season, tonight the Lakers embark on a stretch of highly important games ( OKC twice, Spurs three times) with playoff implications.

Tonight’s game will be an emotional game with the return of Derek Fisher. The events of the past few weeks show what his loss in leadership has meant to the locker room. Have to believe that if Derek Fisher was still wearing a purple and gold jersey he would be able to reel in everyone on the team and keep them focused and in line. The task now falls on Kobe Bryant & Pau Gasol to provide leadership and keep everyone in line. Both Bryant & Gasol can handle the task.

The Lakers trail the season series with Oklahoma City (0-1) after winning last season’s series (2-1). The Lakers have actually taken the last six season series from the Thunder. The Lakers have gone 8-2 in their 10 games against the Thunder, but OKC snapped the Lakers 8-game home winning streak was on 4/10/11. The Lakers are 15-9 all-time against Oklahoma City at the Staples Center. The Thunder are arguably the most talented, balanced, athletic team in the conference.

The Thunder are 7-3 in their last 10 games and are 4-0 since acquiring Derek Fisher. Oklahoma City has a 16-8 record on the road, 9-2 against their division and an impressive 28-9 record against the Western Conference. The Thunder are a solid athletic defensive team, but the Lakers have to pound the ball inside to Andrew Bynum & Pau Gasol. L.A. has to do solid job of moving the basketball and moving bodies to find high percentage shots.

The Lakers have to slow down the combination of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden; this group is averaging 69 points, 17.1 rebounds, 13 assists and 4.21 steals per game. It is imperative that Metta World Peace stay out of foul trouble and force Kevin Durant to make difficult contested shots.

The Thunder’s big three pose many challenges and will be difficult to stop, but L.A. has to ensure that with the primary focus on the big three they do not inadvertently make someone else a star. The Lakers need to play with a high energy level, defend, play with a sense of urgency, make precise passes, limit their turnovers and receive a consistent contribution from their reserves.

This is a playoff game, the Lakers have to play with a high energy level and match the intensity of the Thunder. The Laker guards have to stay in front of Russell Westbrook & James Harden and force both to shoot contested jump shots.

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

Tip-off: 7:30 PM PST

Television

  • Los Angeles: TNT
  • Oklahoma City: TNT

Radio

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

Injuries

Lakers:

  • Jordan Hill (Sprained MCL, Right Knee) Questionable

      Thunder:

  • Daequan Cook (Sprained Right Knee) Out
  • Eric Maynor (Torn Right ACL) Out