Lakers vs. Thunder Pre-Game Report: Lakers Face Tough Test in Midwest

NBA: Playoffs-Los Angeles Lakers at Oklahoma City Thunder

Lakers fans are soaring high after the Lakers edged past the Hawks and reached .500 for the first time this year. The Thunder would love to burst the Lakers’ proverbial bubble tonight in Oklahoma City where they are 26-4. As you know the Lakers have struggled on the road this season with a 10-19 record. To make matters worse, the Thunder are one of the highest-scoring teams in the league with 106.7 ppg and a 58.5 true shooting percentage (True Shooting Percentage calculates shooting percentage adjusting for the value of free throws and three-point field goals).

The young Thunder are the new faces of the Western Conference and seem to have a bright future ahead of them. On the other hand, the aging Lakers represent the old guard of the West, and seem to be fading into the twilight. I’m sure Kobe Bryant is certainly not ready to pass the torch to Kevin Durant. Hopefully the Lakers come out fired up tonight and play some of their best basketball. They’ll need their very best and nothing less in order to take down the Thunder on their home court.

Frontcourt: Kendrick Perkins anchors the Thunder’s defense at the center position. He’s a physical defender who will not be afraid to push Dwight around. His partner in crime is Serge Ibaka who loves coming off of the weak side for the block. In addition to leading the team with 2.9 blocks per game, Ibaka has refined his offensive skills and is averaging 13.6 points on 56.3 percent shooting. Back up forward Nick Collison is a blue collar type player who hustles, sets hard screens and takes charges like a boss. He’s the ultimate role player.

The crown jewel of the Thunder is 24 year old Kevin Durant. If it weren’t for some guy named LeBron, Durant would be the surefire pick to win the MVP this year. Just for fun here are his stats: 28.6 pts (50.9 percent FG), 4.6 assists, 7.8 rebounds, 1.9 threes (42.2 percent from three), 1.5 steals, 1.2 blocks and 90.7 percent from the free-throw line. What?! Besides his mind boggling stats Durant is just about the smoothest player you could find in the entire league. His makes three point attempts look like he’s calmly shooting a free throw. Durant is the real deal and will be a tough defensive assignment for MWP tonight.

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Backcourt: If Kevin Durant is Batman then his Robin is Russell Westbrook. Westbrook is also the only player on the court who has the capability of completely negating Durant’s impact. He does this by taking too many shot attempts which directly impacts Durant’s scoring. Westbrook actually attempts 0.7 more shots than Durant which is somewhat appalling considering Durant converts on more than 50 percent of his shots while Westbrook shoots a meager 43.6 percent from the field. That being said Westbrook does dish out nearly eight assists per game which is more than Nash or Kobe this year.

Sefolosha is great on-ball defender who will have the unenviable task of trying not to get posterized by Kobe tonight. Recently, he’s had an offensive explosion averaging 11.8 points on 54.2 percent shooting and 1.8 threes. Kobe can’t leave Sefolosha wide-open in order to help on Westbrook. Off the bench, Kevin Martin is a pure scorer who strokes the long ball at 43.3 percent. As the third highest scorer on the team, K-Mart is the one of the league’s best sixth men.

Key to Lakers’ Victory:
Keep Thunder off the Charity Stripe – Thunder have the most free throw makes and highest team shooting percentage from the charity stripe at 83.1 percent. The Lakers actually lead the league in free throw attempts, but convert at a league worst 68.9 percent rate. On a per game basis, the Thunder score 3.7 more points than the Lakers do from the free throw line. Three to four points could be the difference in a close game. If the Lakers win tonight, it surely won’t be a blowout, it’ll be decided by a few points at most. With that in mind, the Lakers need to come up with a defensive game plan to defend Westbrook and Durant without overfouling them.

Win Turnover Battle – The Thunder are one of the worst in the league when it comes to taking care of the ball – they average 15.2 TOs per game and possess 16.3 percent turnover ratio which means they turn the ball over about 16.3 times per 100 possessions (TO ratio). The Lakers are prone to sloppy offense as well, averaging 15.0 TOs per game with a 15.9 percent TO ratio. One thing to watch for tonight is who takes better care of the ball. The Lakers could gain a possession advantage if they play cleanly on offense and force the Thunder to their season TO average.

Defense – Plain and simple, the Lakers will need to play superb defense in order to beat the Thunder in Energy Arena. A month ago when the Lakers defeated the Thunder they managed to hold them to 95 points and 44.4% shooting. While it won’t be easy to repeat this performance, if they do it’ll be a sign that the Lakers have indeed turned the corner.

Los Angeles Lakers (30-30) at Oklahoma City Thunder (43-16)
6:30 PM PST, March 5, 2013
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

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

Key Reserves: SG: Kevin Martin FC: Nick Collison

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