Los Angeles Lakers (20-13) at Oklahoma City Thunder (26-7)
6:30 PM PST, February 23, 2012
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
TV: TNT, KCAL
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Thunder Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: Daequan Cook
SF: Kevin Durant
PF: Serge Ibaka
C: Kendrick Perkins
Key Reserves: SG James Harden
The Lakers will close out their road trip, and the first half of the season, in Oklahoma City against Kevin Durant and the Thunder. With a record of 26-7, the Thunder are undoubtedly the best team in the West. Durant and Westbrook are a formidable duo who are young, talented and hungry for their first championship. On the other hand, Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher have been through many battles and won five championships together. The Thunder are a up-and-coming team who are chasing their first ring. Conversely, the Lakers are an aging bunch who are trying to stay relevant, but it seems that their best years are behind them. Tonight’s game will be a battle between the old guard and young blood. Although this is only the mid point of the season, this game could be a preview of a Western Conference playoff match-up. Surely the Lakers will be fired up to prove that they’re not over the hill just yet.
Frontcourt: Perkins has owned up to his role as an interior defender. He’s averaging 1.2 blocks this season. He had an eye-popping 6 blocks against his former team, the Celtics, on Monday night. Perkins plugs the lane and allows the Thunder’s leading shot blocker, Serge Ibaka to swoop in from the weakside. Ibaka leads the NBA with an astounding 3.3 blocks per game. Besides his post defense dominance, he has developed into an explosive finisher on the offensive end. His offense is far from refined, but the Lakers should be warned that Serge will attempt to dunk anything within four to five feet of the rim. An injury to backup Nick Collison has left their frontcourt thin. If there is one weakness for the Thunder, it is their lack of big men depth.
Backcourt: Whoever said that Durant and Westbrook couldn’t coexist should take a long hard look at the stat sheet from the Denver game on Feb. 19th. Durant had 51 points and Westbrook wasn’t far behind with 40. The scary thing is that they’re both 23-years-old and they’re no where near their projected ceilings. These two will be a handful to deal with for the Lakers. At the one, three point specialist Daequan Cook as replaced an injured Sefolosha. Off the bench, is leading Sixth Man of the Year candidate, James Harden. Harden averages 16.8 points per game and can score from anywhere on the court. He’s a versatile player who is just as comfortable slashing to the hoop as he is spotting up for a three.
Keys to Lakers’ Victory:
Turn the Thunder Over – The Thunder are immensely talented, but they’re still a young team who can be cavalier with the ball at times; the Thunder lead the league with 16.7 turn overs per game. If the Lakers can keep pressure on the ball and force the Thunder into losing the ball they could really throw them off their rhythm.
Control the Pace – After a tough game in Dallas, the Lakers are bound to be tired in the second night of a back-to-back on the road. The Lakers need to control the pace and not get caught up playing the game at the breakneck speed that the Thunder enjoy.