In a rematch from last year’s Western Conference Semifinals of the NBA Playoffs, the Oklahoma City Thunder face off against the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night. Though this will be the fourth time the two teams have met this season (the Thunder lead the series 2-1), this game hold more weight than most regular season games.
This past weekend the Lakers brought their record to 30-30, the first time they’ve been at .500 since December. They’re also 13-5 over their last 18 games. Their recent success makes it seem much more likely that they will eventually slide into the playoffs this season.
That is why this matchup is enormous for the Thunder. If the Lakers make the playoffs, they will likely be the seven or eight-seed, which would potentially put them in a first-round matchup against the Thunder. The last thing Oklahoma City wants is an inspired Lakers team and an inspired Kobe Bryant coming to town in the postseason with the knowledge that they have the ability to beat them.
The first bit of good news for OKC is that they found out earlier today that they will have Serge Ibaka on the floor after he avoided suspension for hitting Blake Griffin in the crotch on Sunday. They also have their superstars in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook taking the floor.
If the Thunder do have any worries, it’s that the Lakers were able to cause them problems in their last meeting on Jan. 27. The Lakers took that game, 105-96, and held Durant and Westbrook to just 16-48 combined from the field. They also forced the Thunder to shoot 25 percent from long-range, a much lower rate than the 39.1 percent that they’ve shot on the year.
When the Lakers step on the floor in Oklahoma City on Tuesday night, the Thunder need to be prepared to make a statement win. Not only will it potentially put them closer to the one-seed in the West, but it will also allow them to have a mental advantage over the Lakers if the two teams were to match up in the postseason.