Win a game in a city that has provided more losses than wins. Lose three in row by giving up a total of over 400 points to your opponents. Then defeat the team with the best record in your conference. This Lakers team has been described by many words this season (mostly negative), but the phrase that describes them best is consistently inconsistent.
When the team with the worst record in the Western Conference is set to meet the best team in the same pool, the predictions are no mystery. The Oklahoma City Thunder had 25 more wins than the Lakers when today’s game started. Kevin Durant has been playing an MVP season and teammate, Russell Westbrook was back from injury. One of the NBA’s dynamic duos against this rag-tag bunch of expiring contracts – who would choose the Lakers to win this afternoon? Perhaps that was OKC’s attitude as well.
The Thunder pummeled the Lakers to start the game, getting off to an 18 point lead not even halfway into the second quarter. If the Clippers could lead by 50 points, it was hard to imagine OKC not doing even more damage, but Los Lakers, dressed in their white, sleeved jerseys, gathered themselves and fought back.
They outscored OKC 61-40 in the second and third quarters, building up to an 18-point lead themselves. Jodie Meeks couldn’t miss, they got to the free throw line and shot well from it, they played defense and, even when the Thunder got as close as two points in the last few seconds of the game, they continued to play until the final buzzer. Lakers with the win, 114-110.
Jodie M33ks –If the Lakers had to choose their best and most consistent player this season, no one would come close to Meeks’ consistency in terms of longevity, scoring and overall competitiveness. He’s played in 59 of the season’s 64 games (and started in 52), missing just a few games’ worth due to injury. He’s the second leading scorer on the team right after Pau Gasol, and his effort and energy is the same in every game he’s played. Today’s game wouldn’t have ended the way it did without Meeks’ production. He poured in 42 points (a new career-high) on 11-18 from the field, shot 6-11 from three and was a perfect 14-14 from the charity stripe. He’s the first Laker this season to break the 40-point mark, and he alone outscored OKC in the third quarter by pitting his 5-7 from the field and 6-6 from the free throw line for 20 points, against the Thunder’s 7-21 shooting, 3-4 from free throws. Lebron James may want to give Meeks a call and ask for pointers on how to play with the sleeved jerseys.
Pau Gasol – Under Meeks’ shadow was a double-double from Mr. Consistency himself. Ever since he came back from his groin injury, Gasol has been playing the way we have known him to play – with a lot of purpose. He chipped in 20 points on 8-17 from the field and a perfect 4-4 from the free throw line, grabbed 11 rebounds, handed out three assists and blocked one shot.
Teamwork – A win against one of the best teams in the NBA can’t be had by the performance of just two players. The Lakers had a whole team doing work today. Seven players had double-digit stats, including Ryan Kelly, who not only scored 12 points, but handed out eight assists (career high); second to Kendall Marshall’s 10. Jordan Farmar, third in the league in three-point percentage, went 3-4 from downtown and put in 12 points himself. Wesley Johnson and Kent Bazemore had 11 points apiece.
Free Throws – The Thunder average just over 24 free throws a game and make them at a very efficient 81% clip. The Lakers don’t (because they often don’t attempt to) get there. Today, however, the home team got to the free throw line 30 times and converted on 25 of them, while OKC got there just 21 times, and missed seven (four misses were by Kevin Durant, 27 points, 23 assists, 10 rebounds, a rarity). Meeks, who should no longer be known as just a three-point shooter after this season, got to the line the most today at 14 attempts and he hit every single one. The Lakers equaled OKC in points-in-the-paint today at 40 apiece.
Threeball – It’s become directly related to the Lakers’ performance in each game. When they shoot well from three, they shoot well period, and today they hit 13, led, again, by Meek’s six.
Defense - The Lakers were trapping from full court, on the baseline, in the paint, around the arc (which often ended with Kevin Durant attempting three free throws) – the energy wasn’t just happening on one side of the court. They were clearly putting in more effort on defense. If only they were as energetic on defense as often as they are on offense.
Energy – Mike D’Antoni has been preaching this all season – the ball finds energy. It’s a fine philosophy, but if the players don’t have energy to pass on to the ball, the ball won’t find a darn thing. Whether the Lakers have won games this season via wire-to-wire, come-from-behind or late-game heroics, they do so because they played with the right energy, or with just plain energy period.
Rebounds – It’s a good thing the Lakers shot well from outside, because they were outrebounded 59-36. They allowed OKC 19 offensive rebounds to their one. The Lakers had ONE offensive rebound the entire game and were fortunate that the Thunder went 5-15 in second chance points.
Late-game Errors – The Lakers outscored OKC 36-19 in third quarter, and were leading by 18 points three minutes into the fourth quarter. The Thunder flipped a switch, however, and, despite shooting just 42% to the Lakers’ 59% in the fourth, got to the free throw line 14 times and hit nine. They also made six threes and outscored the home team 35-27.
When the Lakers are bad, they’re awful, and for a long period of time. When they’re good, it’s short-lived. And everything mediocre in between is a mixed bag. Lost as this season is, it’s hard not to revel in a little joy with games like today. Fortunately for the Thunder, they get another crack at the purple and gold in a few days…in OKC. Predictions? Who knows?!