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Western Conference Semifinals – Game Four

It is May 19, 2012 and the (3) Los Angeles Lakers are set for a pivotal game against the (2) Oklahoma City Thunder. The Lakers secured a much-needed 99-96 victory over the Thunder on Friday. L.A. earned the win at the free throw line converting 41-of-42 free throws. Kobe Bryant was perfect from the charity stripe going 18-of-18 and set a new Lakers playoff record.

Some members of the national media were not overly impressed. Granted the Thunder are still the favorites in this series, but it seems that several have forgotten that in the 2010 series against the Thunder, OKC as +69 in free throw attempts at home. If Steve Blake’s corner three-point shot hits home this series would have an entirely different feel to it.

The Lakers do not have time to celebrate their huge win. Another blunder of NBA scheduling in this short truncated season the Lakers have to play a back-to-back playoff game tonight.  This is a battle of youth versus experience; a team that wants to get out in transition against one that wants to slow the pace and play half-court basketball.

The Lakers do have experience on their side, seeing as Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden have played 30 playoff games. Metta World Peace has played 80, Pau Gasol 99 and Kobe Bryant has logged 218.  The Lakers started this series appearing old, tired and slow although L.A. has changed this series into one that they appear comfortable playing in.

The Lakers have to fight through the mental and physical fatigue that awaits them. L.A.’s defense has been solid, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. Defensively, the Lakers have to continue to vary the way that their defending the pick-and-roll play.

The guards have to continue to fight over the screens with the awareness that they will face multiple screens. It is imperative that the Lakers play with more energy, control the tempo, stop the dribble penetration of the guards, get back in transition, contest shots and control the boards. The Lakers have to do a better job of protecting the paint the guards have to stay in front of their opponents and box out.

The Lakers might have to entertain the thought of trapping Kevin Durant & James Harden to get the ball out of their hands. Offensively, the Lakers ball movement, player movement has to continue to improve with the ball moving from the strong to weak side as well as going inside. Kobe Bryant will continue to lead the way for the purple and gold, but it was good to see Ramon Sessions come alive. Sessions has the green light and needs to continue to attack the paint.

L.A. has to get both Andrew Bynum & Pau Gasol going offensively. OKC is doing a good job of denying passes into the low post; L.A. has to use different ways to get the ball inside to their big players.  OKC is also sitting in Bynum & Gasol’s laps due to the Lakers poor perimeter shooting. The Lakers have to attack the rim after giving Serge Ibaka a pump fake or two. The Lakers have to knock down perimeter jump shots, take care of the ball and limit OKC’s second chance points. Tonight’s game is a must-win game for the Lakers. The Lakers need to play with passion on every possession and execute their half court offense to perfection.

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: ESPN
  • Oklahoma City: ESPN

Radio

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

Injuries

Lakers:

  • Matt Barnes (Sprained Right Ankle) Probable
  • Devin Ebanks (Middle & Ring Finger Contusions, Left Hand) Probable

      Thunder:

  • Eric Maynor (Torn Right ACL) Out