The (5-23) Los Angeles Lakers play the (19-9) Oklahoma City Thunder for the second time in five days, in a back-to-back contest as well as in OKC’s second-straight game at the Staples Center. OKC beat the Los Angeles Clippers on a Kevin Durant game-winning shot at the buzzer. Just as sure as driving slightly more than seven miles south on the 110 Freeway and seven miles west on the 105 Freeway in L.A. you’ll reach the Los Angeles International Airport; the OKC Thunder will have something to say about who walks away as the Western Conference Championship this season.
Kobe Bryant erupted for 31 points (matching his season-high), five assists and three rebounds in Denver, his 427th career 30-point game, helped the Lakers overcome a 21 point first half deficit (cut to 13 by halftime) and notch comeback road win in addition to the purple and gold’s first win this season against a Western Conference team. As difficult as Kobe’s first 17 games were to watch (shooting 90 of 304 field goals for 29.6-percent) he has rounded back into shape and in his last seven games returned to All-Star form shooting 53 of 110 field goals for 48.2-percent. The black mamba has scored 20+ points in five of his last seven games.
The victory in Denver provided several positives, four starters scored in double digits (Kobe 31 points, Jordan Clarkson 19 points, Lou Williams 17 points and Larry Nance Jr. 10 points), but it does not happen without the impact of Brandon Bass’ 11 points, six rebounds and four blocked shot performance off the bench. Clarkson leads the Lakers in field goal percentage at 46.2-percent. As a matter of fact, Clarkson the 46th pick in the 2014 draft with a 15.1 points per game scoring average, trails only T-Wolves Andrew Wiggins (21.3), the 1st overall pick in the 2014 Draft in scoring among the sophomore class.
The Northwest Division leading Oklahoma City Thunder rank 2nd in the NBA in scoring (107.4 points per game), 2nd in rebounding (47.8 rebounds per game), tied for 16th in assists (21.3 assists per game) and 11th defensively (allowing 99.5 points per game). The numbers you need to know; 16, 50, 56, 57, 47, 29 and 21. After their previous meeting the Lakers, called out by Head Coach Byron Scott for playing ‘scared’ or ‘in awe’ of Oklahoma City it will be interesting to witness the energy, effort, aggressiveness, mentality and pride that the Lakers put on display tonight.
Five days ago on the road Los Angeles allowed the OKC Thunder to score 50 points in the paint, secure 56 rebounds (27 by the starters), and surrendered 57 points to their reserves. Equally important, the Lakers allowed OKC to shoot 47-percent from behind the three-point arc as well as and far more egregiously a combined 29 points and 21 rebounds to Steven Adams & Enes Kanter at the center position. The purple and gold have allowed 16 of their last 17 opponents to score 100+ points. To say nothing of the Thunder as a team amassing 28 assists. Win or lose, it is imperative that the Lakers come out and compete against one of the best teams in the Western Conference.
Offensively, the Lakers must run their offense efficiently utilizing moving, passing and cutting. The Lakers ball movement and player movement are essential to finding the open man, high percentage shots in addition to making the OKC defense work. Defensively, the purple and gold must communicate on defense, get back in transition, stop the dribble penetration of Russell Westbrook, surround both OKC center’s and make them play in a crowd, quickly rotate out to open shooters, box their men out and rebound. The purple and gold need to challenge everything and attempt to limit the Thunder to one shot per possession coupled with limiting the impact of the Thunder’s dynamic duo of Kevin Durant and L.A. native Russell Westbrook. The duo posts impressive statistics; 52.2 points, 14.5 rebounds, 13.7 assists and 3.36 steals per game.
Lakers: L. Williams, J. Clarkson, K. Bryant, L. Nance, R. Hibbert
Thunder: R. Westbrook, A. Roberson, K. Durant, S. Ibaka, S. Adams
Tip-off: 7:30 PM PST
• Los Angeles: TWC Sportsnet (Bill MacDonald & Stu Lantz)
• Oklahoma City: Fox Sports Oklahoma (Brad Davis & Michael Cage)
• Los Angeles: 710 ESPN (John Ireland & Mychal Thompson)
• Oklahoma City: WWLS – The Sports Animal 98.1 FM (Matt Pinto)
• Kobe Bryant (Soar Shoulder) Probable
• Julius Randle (Soar Right Ankle) Questionable