Lakers vs. Thunder Preview: Lakers Face One Of The Best In The West

Kobe and DurantThe good news is that Kobe Bryant is back from his Achilles injury. The bad news is that the Lakers are 0-2 with him in the line-up. Both losses came against average to sub-par teams so it’s a bit concerning for Lakers Nation at the moment. As expected there will be an adjustment period for Kobe and the Lakers as they become reacquainted with one another.

Tonight the Lakers hit the road and visit the Oklahoma City Thunder. This is the first meeting between these two teams this season. There’s no question that the Thunder are one of the elite teams in the West. The Thunder just destroyed Memphis 116-100 which doesn’t bode well for the Lakers. In order for the Lakers to win tonight they’ll need to play some of their best basketball and they’ll actually need to defend because getting into a running fest with the Thunder is a recipe for a guaranteed loss.

Frontcourt: If the Thunder have a weakness it’s in their frontcourt. Starting center Kendrick Perkins is a sad former shell of himself and he’s only getting 18 minutes per game. His back-up Steven Adams is a budding rookie who has shown flashes of competence which is more than can be said about Perkins. The Lakers bigs need to exploit the Thunder’s centers and focus on soundly out-rebounding them. A strength for the Thunder in the frontcourt is blockmaster extraordinaire Serge Ibaka. Ibaka is averaging 2.5 blocks per game and is a great rim defender. He’s also greatly improved his mid-range jumper which makes him a legitimate third option on offense; he’s chipped in 14.8 points per game on 50.8% shooting. Shawne Williams will need to defend Ibaka up to fifteen feet from the basket.

Technically Kevin Durant is a frontcourt player; however, even though he’s 6’9″ he plays more like a guard than a traditional post player. As you would expect from one of the best players in the league, Durant is posting absurd numbers this year: 28.4 points, 4.9 assists, 8.2 boards, 1 block and 1.4 steals. His assists and rebounding are better than they’ve ever been at any point in his career. Durant will be an absolute handful for Wes Johnson to guard. Unfortunately since Metta World Peace was amnestied by the Lakers they don’t really have someone who can match-up with Durant.

Russell Westbrook has attempted nearly as many shots as Durant, but only converted 41% of them. Nevertheless, Westbrook is a potent scorer who possesses all world athleticism. I’m convinced that Westbrook could average 12+ assists a game if he made a more concerted effort to feed the best shooter in the NBA who happens to be his teammate. Fellow backcourt mate Thabo Sefolosha has been out with a knee sprain and rookie Andre Roberson has started in his place. Roberson is a strong rebounder for a guard and he’s also a physical defender.

Reggie Jackson has been the Thunder’s sixth man of the season thus far. He’s a speedy point guard who can get high percentage shots at the rim. Jackson is the team’s fourth highest scorer at 12 points per game and he’s essentially replaced the departed Kevin Martin. Another player the Lakers will need to keep an eye on is sophomore Jeremy Lamb who has started to develop into a sharp shooting three-point specialist. Lamb leads his team in converting 40.3% of his three-point attempts.

Key to Lakers’ Victory:
Start Hot: The Thunder are one of the league’s most prolific scoring teams with 105.5 points per 100 possessions. In order for the Lakers to have a chance they need to start off hot from the first tip. This means they’ll need to score efficiently and play solid defense. Simple isn’t it? If the Lakers get behind early it’ll be very difficult for them to claw back on the road against a high scoring machine like the Thunder.

Offensive Integration: Clearly Kobe will need some time to readjust to the pace of the NBA as his gets used to his newly repaired Achilles. The team will also need time to adjust to his presence especially on offense. The Lakers had great ball movement and energy when Kobe was out healing, but they’ve lost a bit of that magic since Kobe returned. I’m convinced that it’ll only be a matter of time before they rediscover their offense as they slowly integrate Kobe.

Keep the Ball in Westbrook’s Hands: Durant is one of the best pure shooters in the league and Westbrook is not. Logically, if Westbrook attempts more shots that’ll mean less shot attempts for Durant. Thus, the Lakers should deny the ball to Durant as much as possible and allow Westbrook to do what he does best and shoot with reckless abandon. Sure, Westbrook might score 35+ on 25+ shots but if that means Durant will be held under 20 then that’s a sound defensive game plan in my book.

Los Angeles Lakers (10-11) at Oklahoma City Thunder (17-4)
5:00 PM PST, December 13, 2013
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

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

Key Reserves: PG: Reggie Jackson SG: Jeremy Lamb C: Steven Adams


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