The Lakers look to bounce back after a huge loss on Friday night to the San Antonio Spurs. Today’s matchup will be a challenge as they face the hot Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder are favorites to reach the NBA Finals this year, so this game will be a great test for the Lakers who are trying to prove that they are real contenders. This will be the second game back for Kobe Bryant who scored 18 points on 7 for 12 shooting in his return against the Spurs. The Lakers need to win to remain on top of the Pacific Division to strengthen their hold of the number three seed. This is also their final home game of the regular season.
Frontcourt: Metta World Peace and Matt Barnes will have big assignments today as they will aim to limit MVP contender Kevin Durant’s performance. Durant is putting together a huge year so far with averages of 27.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game on 50.2 percent shooting. World Peace and Barnes will need to be extra aggressive against Durant, especially since he tends to struggles to get open against physical defense. Serge Ibaka is a solid defender and is leading the league in blocks with an average of 3.63 per game. Ibaka adds 9.0 points and 7.6 boards per game. Kendrick Perkins’ role is to intimidate and be aggressive. Bynum has the skill and ability to easily get around Perkins. It is just a matter of Bynum actually doing it. Perkins averages 5.0 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. Reserve Nick Collison adds 4.5 points and 4.4 boards per game off the bench. However, he is averaging 8.0 rebounds against the Lakers this year.
Backcourt: Russell Westbrook isn’t a traditional point guard. He is a scorer first and a decent passer next. Westbrook is speedy, clever with the ball and a great driver. Ramon Sessions and Steve Blake must step up their defensive effort on Westbrook and force him to take outside shots. Westbrook is averaging 23.8 points, 5.3 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game. It is still an odd notion to see Derek Fisher in a Thunder uniform, but the love and respect for Fisher from the Laker fanbase will never die. Fisher is dealing with Billy Hunter trying to oust him as NBPA President, but don’t expect that to alter his game as he is a true professional. Fisher is averaging 5.4 points and 2.7 assists per game. Thabo Sefolosha is much quieter than his backcourt counterpart, Westbrook, on offense especially. Sefolosha is averaging 4.8 points and 2.9 rebounds per game. Favored 2011-12 Sixth Man of the Year, James Harden, is a constant threat on both sides of the court. Harden recently scored a career-high 40 points against the Phoenix Suns. Harden averages 16.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game.
Keys to a Lakers’ Victory:
Clean Up On The Glass
The Lakers rebounding performance on Friday night was dismal, to say the least, as the team collected only 29 rebounds. Andrew Bynum only recorded 2 rebounds after grabbing a career-high 30 boards during their last visit to San Antonio. The Lakers have lost the rebound battle in both of the games against the Thunder this season, each time by three. Three boards doesn’t sound like much, but cleaning up the glass leads to second chance shots, transition offense and easy opportunities. The Thunder are 5-12 when they are out rebounded by their opponent. Since the Lakers have two of the best rebounders in the game with Gasol and Bynum, there should be no excuse in not winning the board game.
Keep Them Under 50% Field Goal Shooting
The Thunder are a perfect 18-0 this season when shooting 50 percent or better from the field. Overall, Oklahoma City is third in the league with a shooting percentage of 47.3 and are also third in the league in scoring with 102.8. The Thunder have averaged a shooting percentage of 46.5 against the Lakers this season. On the other side, the Lakers have averaged a field goal percentage of 40. The Lakers will need to step up the defense effort against Oklahoma City, while improving their offensive input.
Share The Ball
The Lakers are best when their offense is structured by going to the inside and working itself out. The Laker bigs need to get a great deal of touches. Doing so draws attention to the paint and causes the opponents to send double or even triple teams over, causing players to open up on the court. The Lakers need to spread the court and share the ball. Currently, the Lakers are eighth in the league in assists with 22.38, while the Thunder are last in the league with 18.42. Sharing the ball and creating effective ball movement will give the Lakers the best chance to walk away with a W.
Oklahoma City Thunder (46-17) at Los Angeles Lakers (40-24)
12:30 PM PST, April 22, 2012
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
Radio: 710 AM (English), 1330 AM (Spanish)
Thunder Projected Starting Line-Up:
PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: Thabo Sefolosha
SF: Kevin Durant
PF: Serge Ibaka
C: Kendrick Perkins
Key Reserves: G James Harden, G Derek Fisher, F Nick Collison
Thunder Injury Report: G Eric Maynor (torn ACL): out