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Preview: Lakers vs. Thunder

By winning 14 of their next 18 games after losing 4-consecutive games in January, the Lakers (30-30) have climbed their way back to within 2 games of the final spot in the west. The Jazz have slid down as the 8th seed thanks to their 1-4 record over the last 5 games.

Utah and Golden State have been sputtering of late, but the Jazz could have a tougher time recovering as they still have 3 more road games before heading back to Salt Lake City. The Warriors will be at home for their next 6 games. But the Lakers can't worry too much about what those teams do. They still have to win games to get themselves in the playoffs no matter what happens. But tonight's game will be one of their very toughest the rest of the way as they face the Oklahoma City Thunder (43-16) on the road for the last time this season.

The Thunder still owns one of the most impressive home record in the league at 26-4. They've beaten the Lakers at the Chesapeake Energy Arena by an average of 13.6 points since being eliminated in the opening round of the 2010 playoffs.

OKC is 2nd in points production in the NBA averaging 106.7 points per game. They're also 3rd in scoring efficiency at 48.3% and 2nd in 3-point efficiency at 39.1% a game. Defensively, they're 2nd in opponent scoring from the field at 43% and tops the league in block shots averaging 7.6 per outing. In other words, the Thunder can hurt any team on either end of the floor.

If the Lakers have any chance at upsetting the Thunder, they will have to take care of at least one of their leaders.

Kevin Durant loves to shoot against the purple and gold. In the 3 meetings this season, he's averaging an insane 37.7 points on 51.4% shooting. Needless to say, he's the guy the Lakers can't afford to get off offensively. Then again, Russell Westbrook cannot be taken any lighter than Durant.

Westbrook may have had an off-night last time, but he's been putting up 25.7 points (40.6%) and dishing 10.3 assists per game versus the Lakers this year. His aggressiveness in attacking the rim and lack of conscience launching those threes are usually the first things the Lakers worry about on defense. And if he gets it going offensively like his 25-point outburst in just the 1st half last time the Lakers were in town, watch out.

On the bright side, the Lakers have improved as a team. While the verdict is still out on how much of that progression matters to teams like the Thunder, the Lakers will need to continue to play as a team and fight in every possession tonight. It's crucial for them to come out of that locker room with a collective understanding that they can't start or end the game with no desire to win.

This is the 4th and final meeting of the regular season against OKC. The Lakers have not taken the season series since the 2009-2010 season and have not won in Oklahoma City since Feb. 27, 2011.

Matchup of the Game

Metta World Peace vs. Kevin Durant: Beating the Thunder has always been about this matchup. If Metta can contain Durant on defense, the Lakers stand a good chance of winning. If he can contribute offensively, Metta can make the Lakers tougher to beat. Let's hope that happens tonight.

Keys to the Game

> Ready and Loaded: The fate of the Lakers will rely heavily on how they start the game. If they come out shooting bricks, they're in trouble. If they're a step too slow on defense, they're in for a long night.

> Turnovers: This ugly thing again? Yup! Careless passing will be the death of the Lakers. Period.

> Defense: Now that the Lakers are inching closer to the playoffs, they may want to start relying on their defense to win them games. It's going to be difficult and definitely easier said than done, but they have to stop penetrations and challenge jump shots by committee to beat the Thunder.

Watch Out For

LAKERS: Kobe Bryant: No one needs to remind Kobe that every single game leading up to the 82nd one is a big one. He also knows that by defeating OKC on the road tonight will be a tremendous boost to the Lakers. It will be very interesting to see how he approaches this game.

THUNDER: Bench: Both Nick Collison and Kevin Martin have been instrumental for the Thunder in their wins against the Lakers. For Collison, it's his energy, rebounding and defense. For Martin, it's his shooting and ability to get to the line. The problem is the Lakers have yet to stop either guy from doing what they do this season.

Game Info

Tonight
@ Oklahoma City Thunder
6:30 p.m. (PST)
Chesapeake Energy Arena
TV: TNT (National)
Radio: 710 AM ESPN/1330 KWKW

Injury Notes

LAKERS: Pau Gasol (foot) and Jordan Hill (hip) are out.

THUNDER: None.

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Preview: Lakers vs. Thunder

The Lakers (9-10) are 1-1 in this initial 3-game road trip before heading back home for a pit stop on Sunday against Utah. Tonight's opponent is by far the toughest team they'll face away from Staples Center yet.

The purple and gold got their 2nd road win last Wednesday in New Orleans where Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace both made historical achievements. Bryant reached his 30,000 points plateau while World Peace became the 6th player in NBA history to get at least 12,000 points, 4,000 rebounds, 1,000 3-pointers and 1,500 steals.

But individual records don't mean much if the team continue to have a bipolar personality. Against the Oklahoma City Thunder (15-4), anything less than 100% could prove fatal for the Lakers, especially on the defensive end.

The Thunder have the league's highest-scoring offense averaging 105.7 points per game. It's no secret a lot of that has to do with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

Durant is right behind Kobe in scoring at 26.5 per outing, but he's also rebounding (8.5 RPG) and has improved his defense (1.6 SPG and 1.6 BPG). Metta should get the first crack at him. But whoever guards him tonight, they better be up to the task.

Westbrook has turned into a real problem for the Lakers the past 2 seasons. He's been criticized for dominating the ball a little too much, but his 8.7 assists per game average say probably not as bad as most people think. Then again, if you have the foot-speed and uber-athletic advantage over the guy defending you, why go anywhere else?

OKC's decision to trade James Harden to the Rockets was laughed at when it happened. Yes, they may have lost someone that, in my opinion, is a more complete player than Durant. But getting sharpshooter Kevin Durant and a promising young guard in Jeremy Lamb has yet to prove to be a bad return for them.

The Lakers spent Thursday building team chemistry by catching an afternoon slot of "Lincoln". Hopefully, the movie has inspired them for tonight's matchup.

They'll be without Pau Gasol for the 3rd straight time, who is still nursing tendinitis on his knees. And we all know Steve Nash isn't expected back until at least 2 more weeks with Steve Blake due back who knows when.

With both Gasol and Nash out of the picture, the Lakers will rely on Kobe and Dwight Howard to lead them.

Chris Duhon will have his plate full guarding Westbrook and setting the offense for the Lakers. He's done a good job in place of Nash running D'Antoni's system, thus far, so hopefully he continues to do that tonight.

The Lakers have one of the worst road record in the west at 2-5 and are 5-5 in their last 10 games overall. The Thunder have lost only once in their last 10 games and only twice at home so far.

Matchup of the Game

Metta World Peace vs. Kevin Durant: Metta has more freedom to score the basket more under D'Antoni, so it's a good possibility we'll see Durant try his luck in stopping him when he plows his way towards the basket. On the flip side, World Peace must concentrate more in preventing KD from having a monster night on offense more than getting his share in total team points.

Keys to the Game

> Focus: Yeah, defense is a priority on the surface. But if the Lakers come out with zero or little focus on both ends of the floor, it won't matter what the coaching staff had planned for tonight.

> Defense: Against the top-scoring team that also happens to be first in 3-point and free throw efficiency, I'd say the Laker D better be "On" the entire night.

> Aggression: As good as the Thunder are, they are far from being impossible to beat. If the Lakers come out hungry as a team from the get-go, they'll start seeing the Thunder make some mental mistakes on offense and lose focus on the defensive end.

Watch Out For

LAKERS: Antawn Jamison: Unlike Pau, Jamison can stretch the floor more for Howard in the paint. Serge Ibaka loves to block shots as the second defender, but I'm not sure how often he can do that guarding Antawn. There's a good possibility that Ibaka will have a tough time resisting the temptation of helping inside a lot, especially early in the game. All Jamison has to do is capitalize on that.

THUNDER: Kevin Martin: This guy used to be the go-to guy for his previous teams. With the Thunder, he can easily get overlooked. As good and efficient Kobe is on offense right now, he still tends to turn on cruise control on the defensive end. If that happens, Martin could have a strong influence on this game at the start.

Game Info

Tonight at Oklahoma City Thunder
Tip-Off: 6:30 p.m. (PST)

Chesapeake Bay Arena
TV: TWC SportsNet (So. California)/ESPN (national)
Radio: 710 AM ESPN/1330 KWKW

 

Preview: Lakers vs. Thunder

The Lakers (53-18) continue their five-game road trip against the second leading scorer in the NBA and his Oklahoma City Thunder (43-27). Since losing to the defending champs back in January, the Thunder has been making loud noises around the league by having a 7-game winning streak at one point and having won seven of their last 10 games. But they are only 1-3 the last 4 games.

Thanks to the Lakers defeating the Spurs last Wednesday, Oklahoma City has taken over the 6th spot in the west and has been one of the NBA’s biggest surprise this season. They are 23-12 heading into tonight’s game at the Ford Center. With their fourth straight win on the road, the purple and gold improved to 21-13 outside Staples Center.

Versatile Kevin Durant is averaging 29.7 PPG this year and is only trailing Lebron James by a measly .1 of a tie for first place in scoring, but he’s had trouble shooting well against the Lakers. The only time he’s had a good run was during their last meeting in L.A. by scoring 30 points on 11 of 19 shooting in their loss in Dec. His worst was going 8 for 20 for 19 points on Nov. 22. Obviously, he’s been scoring well lately, but we’ll see how he does against a leaner and meaner Ron Artest.

On the other hand, Kobe Bryant loves to shoot against the Thunder and is averaging 32.3 PPG against them this year, including a 40-point outing in their last game. He’s had problems scoring against Thabo Sefolosha earlier, but he seems to have gone over the hump the past two games. So, he’s become an even bigger headache for Oklahoma City.

The Lakers have beaten the Thunder 12 consecutive times if you’re counting the games when the Thunder used to be in a town called Seattle. If not, then count it at as a 6-game losing streak against the Lakers. This will be their 4th and final game against one another of the regular season.

The defending champs will see their 8th straight victory if they manage Durant and Russell Westbrook well, use the combination of Kobe and Pau Gasol well, share the ball, rebound, and play the brand of defense they showed against San Antonio. The Thunder are on a roll behind Durant’s improved game, and they are much younger than the Spurs. So it would be dangerous to look past this team or rely upon their winning streak to carry them past the Thunder.

Tip-off is at 5:00.  TV: KCAL  Radio: 710/1330 AM ESPN

GO LAKERS!!!

Preview: Lakers vs. Thunder

The Lakers (53-18) continue their five-game road trip against the second leading scorer in the NBA and his Oklahoma City Thunder (43-27). Since losing to the defending champs back in January, the Thunder has been making loud noises around the league by having a 7-game winning streak at one point and having won seven of their last 10 games. But they are only 1-3 the last 4 games.

Thanks to the Lakers defeating the Spurs last Wednesday, Oklahoma City has taken over the 6th spot in the west and has been one of the NBA’s biggest surprise this season. They are 23-12 heading into tonight’s game at the Ford Center. With their fourth straight win on the road, the purple and gold improved to 21-13 outside Staples Center.

Versatile Kevin Durant is averaging 29.7 PPG this year and is only trailing Lebron James by a measly .1 of a tie for first place in scoring, but he’s had trouble shooting well against the Lakers. The only time he’s had a good run was during their last meeting in L.A. by scoring 30 points on 11 of 19 shooting in their loss in Dec. His worst was going 8 for 20 for 19 points on Nov. 22. Obviously, he’s been scoring well lately, but we’ll see how he does against a leaner and meaner Ron Artest.

On the other hand, Kobe Bryant loves to shoot against the Thunder and is averaging 32.3 PPG against them this year, including a 40-point outing in their last game. He’s had problems scoring against Thabo Sefolosha earlier, but he seems to have gone over the hump the past two games. So, he’s become an even bigger headache for Oklahoma City.

The Lakers have beaten the Thunder 12 consecutive times if you’re counting the games when the Thunder used to be in a town called Seattle. If not, then count it at as a 6-game losing streak against the Lakers. This will be their 4th and final game against one another of the regular season.

The defending champs will see their 8th straight victory if they manage Durant and Russell Westbrook well, use the combination of Kobe and Pau Gasol well, share the ball, rebound, and play the brand of defense they showed against San Antonio. The Thunder are on a roll behind Durant’s improved game, and they are much younger than the Spurs. So it would be dangerous to look past this team or rely upon their winning streak to carry them past the Thunder.

Tip-off is at 5:00.  TV: KCAL  Radio: 710/1330 AM ESPN

GO LAKERS!!!

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