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“New” Lakers still not as good as same ol’ Thunder

Mar 30, 2012, 2:43 AM EDT

Russell Westbrook, Matt Barnes AP

This was supposed to be a statement game for the “new” Lakers — new coach, new system, new emphasis on defense and now a new point guard to organize it all. The Thunder, they didn’t change much of anything from last year.

Well, the game was a statement all right — the Thunder are much better right now. If you have any doubt that Oklahoma City is the team to beat in the West, you just need to watch them when they are clicking.

Oklahoma City was a step ahead of the Lakers starting with an 11-0 run to open the second half and they went on to a comfortable 102-93 win.

Oklahoma City was literally a step ahead — on top of its pregame white board in the locker room was the instruction to get out and run on the Lakers. Get points in transition. They did some in the first half but in the third quarter Russell Westbrook took the message to heart and changed the game.

“You’ve got to give a guy like Russell Westbrook credit,” Lakers coach Mike Brown said. “In the third quarter, he just came out, put his head down and went one on four and either scored or got fouled every time he came down the floor in that third quarter.”

Westbrook had six field goals in the third quarter — which was one more than the Lakers scored as a team. Lakers guard Ramon Sessions said the plan was to go under the pick-and-roll with Westbrook and make him shoot the jumper. Which he did — he’d use the space to make a little drive to the elbow then shoot and knock it down on his way to 36 points for the game.

After the game the Lakers tried to find solace in a first half where they were more physical and used their length to jump out to a 30-18 lead after one quarter. They tried to see a new Laker team that can compete with the Thunder when they play the right way. Andrew Bynum was very aggressive (particularly early) and had 25 points on 10-of-15 shooting, plus 13 rebounds. Kobe Bryant had 23 points but needed 25 shots to get there, with Thabo Sefolosha doing a good job forcing him off his spots.

But the old Lakers had Lamar Odom coming off the bench and the new Lakers have nobody who can change the game that way. When the Thunder bench entered in the second quarter they quickly cut the Lakers early lead in half. Derek Fisher did part of that damage with 7 points on drives and jumpers — he was in revenge mode and it made him play maybe the best he has all season.

At the half the Lakers were up 5, but the big three for the Thunder — Westbrook, Kevin Durant and James Harden — were a combined 10-for-37. You knew things were going to change.

You knew the Thunder’s statement was coming. They made it with hustle, getting 19 offensive rebounds and seemingly every offensive rebound.

One game in March does not a potential playoff series determine, but the statements from this game are the statements we have seen these teams for a while now. The Lakers are good but they don’t seem to have all the pieces of a contender — consistent defense, weak transition defense, good bench depth at the two and four, and they still struggle to shoot consistently from the outside.

The Thunder are deeper, more athletic, more complete. And they have an energy that helps them overcome their flaws. And when all else fails they can just put their head down and run past the Lakers.

  1. davidly - Mar 30, 2012 at 6:38 AM

    I’m gonna Johnny-One-Note and reiterate that the Lakers gave up challenging Ok City when they chose not to keep Shaw and the triple-post. What followed is not all their fault (read “Stern”), but you gotta expect a few bumps in the road when you flush your whole system down the commode.

    And the thing is: Dallas had tipped their hand by trading Chandler, which would have – in my opinion – put LA back on top in the West with the front-line advantage. But they promptly gave that up two days later.

    Now it doesn’t matter if they have Sessions or Blake or Fisher starting, they don’t even have the semblance of a bench that’ll keep them in the playoffs past the first round. Mark my words: San Anton, Dallas, or Ok City is gonna knock ’em out in the second round.

    • davidly - Mar 30, 2012 at 6:49 AM

      I guess I should add Memphis or the Clippers to that list.

      And: That Now it doesn’t matter if they have Sessions or Blake or Fisher starting, KB is going to shoot his 23+ shots per game (which leads the league, by the way), which they were able to overcome when the were rotating Bynum, Gasol, and Odom. Now what are they gonna do? Hope that Bryant makes half of his shots?

  2. loungefly74 - Mar 30, 2012 at 8:10 AM

    the thunder recovered from a poor start and deserved to win the game especially when kobe has that bad of a shooting night, it’s going to be tough for the Lakers to win.

    As a Laker’s fan, i’m not gonna sweat bullets over this loss and i still think we have the team that can challenge/beat the thunder or whoever else in the West during the playoffs. Luckily, there are still a dozen games left to mesh their game.

    • chuckj1234 - Mar 30, 2012 at 5:44 PM

      A dozen games is not a enough. They need to retool their bench this summer. They also need a poer forward.

      • loungefly74 - Apr 2, 2012 at 7:47 AM

        you’re right.

        hey Lakers….yeah you…hey guys…just give up. yeah, just give up. its pointless this year. and just forget that we still have the core that made it to 3 of the past 4 finals. it doesn’t matter…we are just going to crown the thunder or heat right now.

        Lakers need a power forward? uhh…okay? really?

  3. omniusprime - Mar 30, 2012 at 8:59 AM

    Last night’s game shows how poorly Jim Buss performed in getting rid of Brian Shaw and the successful Triangle Offense then brining in the incompetent Mike Brown to coach with no offensive system at all. It was really stupid to get rid of Odom for nothing, we see how Gasol and Bynum just aren’t enough of a front-line to win games against elite teams like OKC. Kobe shot too much again because the team has no offense and a coach with no clue how to have one. I certainly won’t be expecting the Lakers to go far in this year’s playoffs.

  4. usavebob - Mar 30, 2012 at 9:18 AM

    Too much Thunder for the Lakers, last night. Sefolosha blanketed Kobe. Here’s a thought, why isn’t Russell Westbrook even mentioned as a third or fourth choice for MVP. 36 points, a bunch of assists and only one turnover deserve some love; he shows up every night!

  5. pistolpete0903 - Mar 30, 2012 at 11:27 AM

    Kobe is starting to look like a villain in LA. Dude, you are not MJ and you have 2 seven footers. Feed the ball inside, dammit!!!!!

  6. ndirishfan1 - Mar 30, 2012 at 12:15 PM

    Mike Brown isn’t doing a terrible job with this Lakers team. The Odom giveaway was a big blow to the team and Sessions will help them considerably. That being said, the Thunder are better right now. World Peace can’t match up with Durant and Harden’s explosiveness off the bench brings slightly more to the table than Steve Blake for the Lakers.

    Los Angeles still has a chance to go deep into the playoffs, but for the first time in a long time, nobody will expect them to make it to the Finals–that mantle deservedly belongs to Oklahoma City.

  7. losangelasbasketball - Mar 30, 2012 at 12:20 PM

    OKC won that game for Fisher…. there’s no way Bynum gets out rebounded by Perkins and that other dude in a normal game…

  8. lakerluver - Mar 30, 2012 at 3:24 PM

    It hurts to admit it but I don’t think my beloved LAKERS can beat them. The Thunder have 3 guys that can go for 30 on any night and a lot of really good role players. And they’re young and hungry!! The rest of the league is in trouble IF that team stays together and stays grounded.

  9. allball23 - Mar 30, 2012 at 4:15 PM

    Thunder are hungry there time is now Kid Clutch for MVP. Thunder will be the next dynasty

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