Lakers vs. Thunder Pre-Game Report: Lakers Face Defending Western Conference Champs

The Lakers end their three-game road trip tonight as they face the team that knocked them out of the second round of last year’s playoffs, the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Lakers are coming off a big win against the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday, where Kobe Bryant made history by becoming just the fifth and youngest player in NBA history to reach 30,000 points. Metta World Peace also made history that night by becoming the sixth player to reach 12,000 points, 4,000 rebounds, 1,000 3-point field goals, and 1,500 steals.

Oklahoma City has rather quickly answered the question of their team dynamic since trading reigning Sixth Man of the Year James Harden to the Houston Rockets prior to the beginning of the season. The Lakers hope their new additions to the roster will give them an edge in what is sure to be a competitive game. The Lakers have an all-time record of 137-87 against the Thunder with a 53-57 road record against Oklahoma City (dating back to Seattle Sonics days). OKC had a 2-1 regular season series record against the Lakers last season.

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Frontcourt: Kendricks Perkins remains a primarily defensive player that will use his aggressiveness and body to defend and catch rebounds. Dwight Howard must box-out Perkins on the boards, especially on the offensive glass. I expect a lot of the Laker offense to be run through Howard since his offensive skills in the low post are an advantage against Perkins, who tends to get into foul trouble. It will be up to Dwight to be able to convert from the charity strike at an average rate at least.

Serge Ibaka’s offensive numbers are improving this season as he is proving that his new max-contract isn’t for a one-trick pony player. In fact, Ibaka has scored double digits in 11 consecutive games. Antawn Jamison will need to up his defense against Ibaka to limit his game. I expect Jamison to stretch the floor tonight on the offensive end going against Ibaka. He is averaging 14.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game.

Kevin Durant continues to arguably be the best player in the league right now. Metta World Peace will have the challenge of defending Durant and preventing him from having a big game. Durant’s assists (4.4) and rebounds (8.5) are up this season from his career averages as he aims to have a more balanced game. Durant is scoring 26.5 points per game on 51.4 percent shooting and 45.5 percent 3-point shooting.

Nick Collison’s averages are down, but that doesn’t mean he should be forgotten about. Collison isn’t afraid to do the dirty work, which can often lead to key offensive boards and put-backs. Collison is averaging 5.8 points and 3.8 rebounds per game in 18.5 minutes.

Backcourt: Russell Westbrook continues to be in the conversation of the league’s top point guards. The 24 year old out of UCLA is averaging 20.9 points, 8.7 assists and 4.9 rebounds on 42.1 percent shooting from the field and 33.8 percent from the three-point line. It will be key for Chris Duhon/Darius Morris to keep Westbrook out of the lane, and to force long jumpers.

Thabo Sefolosha is a solid 2-guard defender and will go against Kobe Bryant tonight. During last season’s playoff series, Sefolosha’s defense forced Kobe into many poor shot attempts. The key for Kobe will be to take high percentage shots and consistently get his teammates involved to disrupt the defense. Sefelosha is posting 7.5 points and 4.4 rebounds per game.

Kevin Martin was part of the trade package that sent James Harden to Houston. Martin has always been an underrated player in my mind, as his shooting abilities are very strong. Martin’s offense is masking up the void that Harden left as he is averaging 15.6 points and 2.4 rebounds per game on 46.3 percent shooting in 29.6 minutes.

Keys to Victory:

Shrink OKC’s Court: We all remember how Oklahoma City’s fast break game killed the Lakers during last year’s playoff series. The Thunder were able to score relentlessly off the break, killing any hints of the Lakers’ momentum and control of the pace. The Lakers need to keep their turnovers on check tonight as OKC is known for capitalizing on turnovers.

Additionally, shrinking the court and stoping the extra pass will be essential for the Lakers as the Thunder are 10-0 when five or more players score 10 or more points. In other words, they move the ball very well and create easy opportunities for others. The Thunder are a youthful and athletic team who are able to maneuver to the basket with ease. That is why it is crucial to force the Thunder into isolation plays that are well defended.

Defense and Some More Defense: The Thunder are 8-0 when shooting 52 percent or better from the fieldThat should be interpreted to the Lakers that defense will dictate this game. The Lakers defense starts with the controlling the boards, which help control the tempo of the game. The Lakers will want to force Russell Westbrook and Thabo Sefolosha to end up with the ball late in the shot clock and force them to take guarded, perimeter shots.

When the Lakers show increased energy on the defensive end, their offense becomes more fluid and they can create a successful offensive rhythm. I expect Dwight Howard to come out with high energy on defense, which hopefully will rub off on his teammates. It will be key to keep the Thunder under 100 points, as they lead the league in scoring with 105.7 points per game.

Los Angeles Lakers (9-10) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (15-4)
6:30 PM PST, December 7, 2012
Chesapeake Energy Arena , Oklahoma City, OK
TV: TWC Sports Network, ESPN
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) 1330 KWKW (Spanish)

Thunder Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: Thabo Sefolosha
SF: Kevin Durant
PF: Serge Ibaka
C: Kendrick Perkins

Key Reserves: G Kevin Martin, F Nick Collison

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