The Los Angeles Lakers will be going against the Oklahoma City Thunder for the third time this season and will try to get their first win against the first place team in the Western Conference. Despite coming of a win against the Utah Jazz, the Lakers are still having trouble finding their chemistry as a team and having the success that was expected of them this season.
The first meeting between these two teams was on December 7th and the Thunder dominated the entire game. At one point they were up by 20 points over the Lakers, but Los Angeles was able to close the gap in the fourth quarter only to 114-108. Kevin Durant led the way with 26 points, while Russell Westbrook also had a big night scoring 33 points.
The second meeting between these two teams was on January 11th in Los Angeles. Center Dwight Howard was out due to an injury and the Lakers weren’t competitive at all throughout losing the game 116-101. Westbrook and Durant led the way again for the Thunder with 27 points and 10 assists for Westbrook and a game high 42 points scored by Durant.
It is obvious to tell that Durant and Westbrook have been dominating the Lakers this season. The key for a Lakers victory today is to slow these two down. This is much easier said than done as Los Angeles doesn’t have anyone who can defend these two all-stars. Durant will be covered by Metta World Peace who at one time was a fantastic defender, but he has lost a step as of late and is no match for the younger more athletic Durant. The same thing can be said about Westbrook who will be guarded by Steve Nash or Kobe Bryant. If Nash is guarding, Westbrook would be able to blow by Nash and get into the lane at will as Nash has never been known as a great defender and is no match for the young Westbrook. Bryant can do his best to contain Westbrook, but Bryant too has lost a step and his defending skills aren’t what they once were.
Another thing the Lakers must do to get the victory is slow down the Thunder. Oklahoma City plays just like D’Antoni wants his team to play, fast and efficient. The Thunder have a young team and a fast team that can play seven seconds or less style. They are a team that works better in the fast break rather than in a half court set. While the Lakers have mismatches on defense as noted earlier, it would still better for the Lakers to get Oklahoma City in a half court set rather than having them run the break.
On offense the Lakers need to slow things down as well. The Lakers have to control the pace of the game and they need to be slow and physical. Bryant needs to be a facilitator again like he was against the Jazz and the ball needs to be consistently fed into the low post with Howard and Pau Gasol. The Thunder are a great team on both sides of the ball so slowing down the pace keeping the score in the 90s is just what the Lakers need.
On paper this looks to be a good match-up, but in reality the edge goes to the Thunder in all phases of the game. However, the Lakers still have a shot at victory today if their defense can improve on the two stars Durant and Westbrook and the Lakers can dominate the low post.
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