Lakers vs. Thunder Pre-Game Report: L.A. Looks to Even Series

The city of Los Angeles fed off the touch of victory as within moments the Los Angeles Dodgers walked-off with a game-winning walk to defeat the St. Louis Cardinals, and then urgently delivered the formula across town to Staples Center as the Lakers finished off the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 3 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals.

Despite locking up down both Russell Westbrook and James Harden for the game, the Thunder duo still found a way to get to the charity stripe, combining to score 18 points from there. Both players finished the contest with 21 points apiece.

Kevin Durant was his usual self, pouring in 31 points. Between the three was an output of 73 points, good for 76 percent of the team’s scoring output.

So why the loss?

The rest of the team shot 10-for-29, or 34.4 percent on the evening, and really let a lackadaisical start couple with a porous finish as the Lakers.

Game 4 is pivotal for the Lakers, and I know it’s an obvious thing to say, but if anything at all goes wrong, this series could be as good as over.

The Lakers are now 4-1 at home after going 26-7 there during the regular season.

They will need another big game from Kobe Bryant on the offensive end, and Andrew Bynum on the defensive end. No lead is safe against the Thunder, as was evident last night.

The moment the Lakers get comfortable is the moment that Durant, Westbrook or Harden will change the pace of the game and blitz past the Lakers.

Fun Facts:

  • The Lakers lead the overall playoff series by a margin of 5-4. The Lakers also lead the Thunder/Sonics franchise by a margin of 26-13.
  • Thanks to the NBA’s shortened schedule, the Lakers will be playing in their first back-to-back playoff games since May 22-23, 1999 when they played the San Antonio Spurs.
  • The Lakers made their first 28 free throws before seeing Andrew Bynum miss on their 29th attempt with 9:15 left in last night’s game. On the evening they shot 41-of-42, a percentage of 97.6.

Keys to a Laker Victory:

Draw Fouls
Free throws are free, right? So what’s the excuse for missing them. None say the Lakers, who have missed a combined four free throws in the three games to start this series. In Games 1 and 2 they shot 29 total free throws, but overwhelmed that number in Game 3 by going to the line 42 times.

Foul pressure forced James Harden of all players to play dangerously, especially in a close game where the loss of a key player is huge. Harden is a foul machine, and the Lakers took full advantage in Game 3. Repeating the successful formula will allow for the Lakers to tighten up a shooting matchup, which they clearly cannot win.

Thus, get those free throw opportunities, and most importantly, make them.

Get Ramon Sessions Inolved
As silly as it may sound, Ramon Sessions had four points on a combined 2-for-10 shooting in Games 1 and 2, and killed lots of the momentum the Lakers had at key moments. Sessions is that one player that could have changed the tide in Game 2, which would have us speaking differently about today’s contest.

But, that changed in Game 3 as Sessions came ready to play, shooting 5-for-9, scoring 12 points, grabbing two rebounds, and dishing four assists. While his game has been foreshadowed by that of Steve Blake, it most certainly must not be forgotten.

Keep Sessions doing whatever he was doing in Game 3. I can promise that his play surely made a difference, and will continue to do so as this series extends itself beyond tomorrow.

The Little Things
Unselfish play will ultimately lift the Lakers over a majorly talented Thunder team. Smart passing, and efficient play can go a long way. It’s the little things that make a squad a championship team. Youth may outrun a slew of veterans, but they can rarely outsmart them.

The Lakers dished out 20 assists on Friday night, besting efforts of 14 assists in Game 1, followed by 11 in Game 2.

Blocked shots made more of an appearance in Game 3 as well as the Lakers swatted nine attempts by the Thunder, trouncing efforts of three blocks in Game 1, and just two in Game 2.

Big differences lie in these numbers, and they are key to evening this series tonight.

Best-Case Prediction: Lakers 103, Thunder 100
Worst-Case: Thunder 114, Lakers 97

Game 4, Semi-Finals, Western Conference
Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Lakers
7:30 PM PST, May 20, 2012
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: TNT
Radio: 710 AM (English), 1330 AM (Spanish)

Series Recap:
Game 1: Lakers 90, Thunder 119
Game 2: Lakers 75, Thunder 77
Game 3: Thunder 96, Lakers 99
Game 4: Tonight
Game 5: May 21, at Oklahoma City – 6:30 p.m. – TNT
*Game 6: May 23, vs Oklahoma City – TBD – ESPN
*Game 7: May 27, at Oklahoma City – TBD – TNT
*if necessary

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

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