Lakers in OKC to face the Western Conference leading Thunder

(Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

It’s February 23, 2012 and the (20-13) Los Angeles Lakers are in Oklahoma City, the state capital of Oklahoma and its largest city, to do battle with the (26-7) Thunder. The Lakers got a huge road win in Dallas, arguably their best road win of the season. The Lakers put on a solid team effort, but had to hold on at the end and came close to giving the game away at the end by missing free throws.

It is imperative that the Lakers put on a much better performance tonight in the last game prior to the All-Star break against the Western conference leading Oklahoma Thunder. The Thunder are arguably the most balanced and athletic team in the conference.

(Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

The Lakers won last season’s series (2-1), after claiming the 2009-2010 series (3-1); the Lakers have actually taken the last six season series from the Thunder. The Lakers have gone 8-2 in their last 10 games overall in Oklahoma City. In the last meeting on April 10, 2011, the Lakers were up one in the fourth quarter with 2:59 remaining, but were outscored by the Thunder 15-0 down the stretch and lost 120-106 at the Staples Center.

The Thunder has won eight of their last 10 games. OKC is riding an 11-game home win streak. The Thunder are a talented, balanced young team with solid depth and athleticism. The Lakers need to continue to execute the game plan of pounding the ball inside to Andrew Bynum & Pau Gasol, playing solid defense, moving the basketball and moving bodies and knocking down open shots.

The Laker guards have to stay in front of Russell Westbrook and force him to be a jump shooter with a hand in his face. The Lakers have to do a solid job of defending the pick-and-roll play, literally build a wall in front of Russell Westbrook, control the tempo, get back in transition, control the boards and quickly rotate out to open shooters.

Despite starting two seven-footers, offensive rebounding remains an issue. The Lakers need to treat every shot as a miss box out their men and rebound. 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.

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.

 

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

Tip-off: 6:30 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:

  • Steve Blake (Costochaondral fracture) Probable

      Thunder:

  • Nick Collison (Left Quad Contusion) Day-to-Day
  • Eric Maynor (Torn Right ACL) Out
  • Lazar Hayward (Orbital Floor Fracture) Out
  • James Harden (Sprained Left Ankle) Day-to-Day

 

Jeff Little is the pre-game writer for LakerNation.com. Follow him on Twitter.