Oklahoma City Thunder (13-38, 3-20) vs. L.A. Lakers (41-9, 23-4 home)
TV: FS Oklahoma (Cox 37, HD 722)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM)
Offensive Rating: Thunder: 103.4 (27th), Lakers: 114.5 (1st)
Defensive Rating: Thunder: 109.4 (21st), Lakers: 105.6 (7th)
Pace: Thunder: 93.6 (7th), Lakers: 94.3 (5th)
Ohhhh boy. Here. We. Go. Lakers and THUN-DA.
OK, so it’s not a marquee matchup yet, but I’m still pretty excited about it. The Lakers are the best team in basketball. The Thunder are no longer the worst. Should make for an awesome matchup, right? Joking aside, yes, I actually really do think it will be a good match.
First, you’ve got a potential Laker letdown. They’re coming off a tough six-game roadie with huge wins against Boston and Cleveland. Now they return home against the Thunder. I bet they didn’t even practice today. Thunder? We playin’ the Thunder? Second: One thing about OKC, other than playing really good ball right now, is that they get up against good teams and compete. It’s against the mediocre to bad ones that they mail it in.
Win or lose, here’s what Oklahoma City needs to focus on tonight:
1. Defend Kobe. I’m really excited to see where Kyle Weaver is at as a defender. We all know he’s got the ability to be a solid defender, but he doesn’t know the ins-and-outs of doing it yet. He needs to frustrate Kobe. Bump him. Push him. Hand in the face at all times. Weaver has done a nice job recently holding Brandon Roy to 12-27 shooting and Kevin Martin to 23 on 7-16 shooting. I think he has a chance to contain him. The goal is to keep Kobe off the free throw line (eight times or less) and have him shoot below 40 percent. If OKC can do that, that’s a major victory.
2. Be in it at halftime. The Lakers are going to go on a run. But the Thunder needs to make sure to weather the storm (ha!). I have a feeling the first quarter score will look something like 35-22 in favor of L.A. OKC needs to play a smart second quarter and be down something like six to nine points. Mentally, that would be huge for the second half.
3. Hold the Lakers to under 105 points. The Thunder has been playing solid offense lately. But I don’t think there’s any way to get into an offensive slugfest with the Lakers. They have just too much firepower. The Lakers lead the league in scoring at almost 109 a game and that’s with the fifth highest pace in the league. OKC did a decent job of slowing the pace and executing against the Blazers. Maybe that’s a key tonight – slow down, execute and limit L.A.’s possessions.
4. Outrebound them. Little things are key. L.A. has a big front line and rebounds well. But guys like Nick Collison don’t care if they’ve got Andre the Giant standing in front of him, he’s going to get that dang rebound. Everybody needs that attitude.
5. Get to the line. The best and easiest way to score. Free points could be the difference in keeping it close or watching the Lakers coast.
6. Turn it over fewer than 15 times. The Thunder has to get up every shot they can. No wasted possessions. I would say 10, but come on, I don’t think that’s reasonable.
7. Do better than “decent” on the blocks against Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. The Lakers love to score in the paint. Odom was a monster there against the Cavs and Gasol is averaging something like 26 and 13 since Andrew Bynum went down. I think Jeff Green matches up decently against Odom, but Gasol will be a handful.
8. Get some easy buckets. I don’t think OKC should really “run” all game long, but easy buckets are key. Russell Westbrook really needs to attack and create and hopefully the Thunder can get a good amount of baskets that they didn’t really have to work for. The Lakers made have some heavy legs after their six-game gauntlet and may be looking ahead to Utah tomorrow. The Thunder may be able to sneak some easy buckets in and they’ll need to because I just don’t think OKC is equipped and ready to take on the Lakers for 48 minutes in the half court.
9. Just have a chance. That’s it. In the fourth quarter, I want to be watching and still reasonably thinking, “OK, get a stop and bucket here and we could do this. Just get a stop.” Just give yourselves that experience of being in it against the Lakers on the road and you can go back to the hotel feeling good about it. OKC isn’t there yet. But it’s getting closer. And just confidence wise, it would be nice to hang in this one.
All of that could happen and OKC still lose by double-digits. But that’s because the Lakers are the league’s best team right now. The Thunder are still a ways off. Tonight should be a good measuring stick. OKC needs to just focus on doing what it can control. Make the plays they’re capable of and whatever happens, happens. I really do think the Thunder will hang tight, but on the road against a great team, I doubt there’s enough to win. If the game is close inside four minutes, the Lakers will snap out of it and finish strong to put OKC away. But the point is, make them snap out of it. Give yourself that chance.