Lakers vs. Thunder: Pre-game primer

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L.A. Lakers (55-14, 24-9 road) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (20-50, 14-22 home)

TV: FS Oklahoma HD (Cox 37, HD 722)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM)
Time: 7:00 CST

Offensive Rating: Thunder: 103.4 (28th), Lakers: 113.6 (1st)
Defensive Rating: Thunder: 109.1 (20th), Lakers: 105.5 (6th)
Pace:Thunder: 93.6 (8th), Lakers: 94.7 (5th)

For OKC’s first matchup against Los Angeles, I looked at nine things the Thunder really needed to focus on in order just to hang close with the mighty Lakers. Among those were get to the line, hold the Lakers to under 105 points, turn it over fewer than 15 times and outrebound them. And OKC did six of the nine really well and stayed close deep into the fourth.

At home last time (a game I predicted stupidly that OKC would win), the Thunder got close to L.A. with Kobe on the bench but never seized the moment. Despite losing by 14, I really feel like the Thunder let something slip away. They played well all over but just didn’t make shots. So what can OKC do to actually beat the Lakers? Not just stay close, but beat probably the best team in the league?

1. Score 100. The Lakers have lost 14 games this season. Eleven of those games were lost when their opponent scored 100 points. Granted, L.A. is 25-11 when their opponent scores 100+, but that means they’re 30-3 when the opponent doesn’t.

2. Take smart shots. Hey Russell, talking to you here. Don’t rush. Don’t freak out and try and make up a six-point deficit in one possession. The last game, OKC killed itself by missing wide open looks and since they weren’t hitting, they started forcing them. The Lakers play great defense, but that 20-footer will be there if there’s four on the shot clock or if there’s 18. Take your time, work it and get good looks. The Lakers are one of the most efficient teams and shoot one of the highest percentages. They’re going to get good looks and score the ball consistently. You have to plan to do the same.

3. Make said smart shots. I counted 11 at-the-rim misses for OKC in the last Laker game. That’s 22 points. Now you can’t assume you’re going to put in every point blank look, but against a team as good as L.A., you need to. It seems like Nenad Krstic misses one or two bunnies a game. Westbrook will get to the rim with ease and not finish. Chucky Atkins will miss four wide the stink open jumpers. You’ve got to knock ’em down. Just got to, mister.

4. Take advantage when Kobe is on the bench. You’ve just got to accept that when Kobe is on the floor, he’s going to take over. Thabo did solid work on him last time, but come on, he’s Kobe. He’s good. So when he sits down, you’ve got to take advantage. The Laker bench is better than most, but the Lakers aren’t as good when Kobe isn’t on the floor. If the Lakers are 10 points better than the Thunder when Kobe is on the floor, the Thunder starters are going to have to be +11 when he’s not.

5.Win at least three major statistical categories. I really think there’s five main stat categories in a game (kind of like the Four Factors, but just in the actual box score): field goal percentage, three-point percentage, free throws made, rebounds and turnovers. Just like with the Four Factors, you win more of those than the other guy and you’ve got a good shot. Last meeting, L.A. won three of the five (field goal and three-point percentage and turnovers). OKC won the rebounding and free throw categories. And that’s why they were somewhat close in the fourth. The first meeting in which L.A. won by just seven, OKC won two (three-point and free throws) and the Lakers won two (field goal and rebounding) and the teams pushed on turnovers. So if OKC is going to shock the world, they’ve got to take three of five. I’d prefer field goal percentage, rebounding and turnovers, but I think any combination of the three could get it done.

The Ford Center will be loud and rocking tonight and who cares what Phil Jackson says about us “petering out.” Cheer in the first quarter like it’s the NBA Finals. The Thunder’s going to need everything it can get.

Tip is at 7:00 CST. Go team that I like.