After piling up the losses on a brutal Grammy road trip, the Los Angeles Lakers enjoyed some extended rest courtesy of the All Star break. Since then, the team has gone 3-1 and is in the middle of a three game winning streak. The Lakers will look to make it four straight today against an Oklahoma City Thunder team that will be without their pair of MVP-caliber studs in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Frontcourt: After struggling in the early part of the season, Serge Ibaka is starting to regain his old form, which is a scary thought for the Lakers. He has been phenomenal since the All Star break, posting averages of 17.2 points, 9.0 rebounds, and a ridiculous 3.8 blocks a game while shooting 57.4 percent from the field. Offensively, he is very effective as a third option but can struggle when his more talented teammates are not on the floor to draw defensive attention. On the defensive end though, Ibaka is one of the league’s premier rim protectors. That said, the Lakers cannot be dissuaded from driving the ball as they already have a tendency to shoot too many long jumpers.
Nick Collison and Kyle Singler are likely to round out the starting Thunder frontcourt today. Both players are replacement level NBA guys. Singler is inconsistent, yet capable on offense and Collison has a reputation for being a gritty and tough defender. Injuries to Kevin Durant, Steven Adams, and Enes Kanter have left the Thunder frontcourt pretty thin, but it has opened up minutes for rookie Mitch McGary who has really shined in extended minutes. McGary’s per minute numbers are through the roof as he currently sits on averages of 8.3 points and 6.0 rebounds in 16.5 minutes a game. Expect Thunder head coach Scott Brooks to give McGary some extended run in today’s contest.
Backcourt: Russell Westbrook has been on a blistering tear throughout February. Whether Kevin Durant suits up or not, Westbrook has played like an MVP throughout the entire season. His February splits are absolutely ridiculous with a scoring average of over 31 points and a near triple double to go with it. He has notched three straight triple doubles and would be looking for a fourth tonight were he not sidelined by an injury.
Obviously the game will be drastically different without Westbrook, but D.J. Augustin will step into the starting role where he is comfortable as he has 168 career starts under his belt. Augustin is one of the best backup point guards in the league and is fully capable of keeping the offense running smoothly. That said, the Thunder don’t have a lot of offensive options with Durant and Westbrook out, so Augustin will likely be asked to shoulder a heavier scoring load.
Andre Roberson and Dion Waiters share most of the minutes at shooting guard and they are drastically different players. Roberson starts as he is the superior defender and rebounder. On the other hand, Waiters hasn’t seen a shot he doesn’t like and is a classic gunner. He shot his way out of Cleveland, but is a good fit on a Thunder team that can use the bench scoring. Roberson may play fewer minutes today as the Lakers don’t have a real isolation perimeter threat. And Scott Brooks may opt to play Waiters more today while the Thunder are short their two best offensive players.
Keys to Victory:
Point Guard Play: Jordan Clarkson and Jeremy Lin have both played well throughout the Lakers’ current winning streak. The league today is very much a guard’s league and the onus is on these two speedy guys to get into the paint and create plays for themselves and their teammates on a consistent basis. Clarkson has shown tremendous improvement over the course of the season and is just two games removed from a career high 22 points.
Rebounding: The Thunder are second in the league in rebounding differential at plus-4.2 while the Lakers sit at twentieth at minus-1.1. An emphasis has to be put on rebounding today as the Thunder will be especially vulnerable if Westbrook doesn’t play. That said, rebounding starts with the bigs and very much has a correlation with effort. If Byron Scott doesn’t like the effort and results he is getting from his starters, he shouldn’t hesitate to bring in Ed Davis and Jordan Hill.
Don’t Settle for Outside Shots: With Serge Ibaka patrolling the middle, it will be very tempting for the Lakers to settle for pull up jumpers as opposed to getting into the paint. The Lakers have had a tendency to settle for long two pointers all season. And while it seems sensible to shoot more jumpers against a team boasting an elite defensive anchor, the Thunder frontcourt is riddled with injuries and any foul trouble for Ibaka would open up the paint offensively for the Lakers.
Heading into today’s game, Lakers are 3.5-point underdogs against the Thunder via Sportsbook.ag.
Los Angeles Lakers (16-41) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (32-27)
3:30 PM PST, March 1, 2015
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Thunder Projected Starting Lineup
PG: D.J. Augustin
SG: Andre Roberson
SF: Kyle Singler
PF: Nick Collison
C: Serge Ibaka
Key Reserves: SG: Dion Waiters, PF: Mitch McGary
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Jordan Clarkson
SG: Wayne Ellington
SF: Ryan Kelly
PF: Carlos Boozer
C: Robert Sacre
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