Apr 22, 2012, 11:44 AM EDT
The playoff race is heating up and with the Lakers battling for the division and the third seed and the Thunder haggling with the Spurs over the top seed in the West, Sunday’s game is the rare late season meeting with meaning. The Lakers need to get a win to lock in no-worse than fifth and drop their magic number over the Clippers to just one. The Thunder have to hang on as long as possible and hope the Spurs, facing an easier schedule, pull their starters and actually lose.
Plus, you know, these two have some history. So here are five things to keep an eye on when the Thunder face the Lakers.
1. Have You Ever Seen The Rain?: The Thunder can score in a torrent, with Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and James Harden, all capable of putting up 40. The Lakers’ defense has backslid considerably, and have the fourth worst defensive efficiency over the past four games. Ramon Sessions, Metta World Peace, and Kobe Bryant are going to have to do serious work on the perimeter to contain the Thunder trio. Having help defense from Andrew Bynum (when he cares) isn’t enough. It’s going to take perimeter containment because OKC’s top three can all hit the mid-range jumper consistently off the screen. Sessions has to get through screens faster and more forcefully, Bryant has to attack Harden’s dribble to get the ball out of his hands, and MWP has to just hang on and hope KD doesn’t have a good night. He can do damage against Durant regardless, but if he’s hot, he’s hot, and that’s all there is to it.
2. Ain’t That A Kick In The Teeth?: The Thunder can bully you. They’re not a great defensive squad, but a good one, and they tend to sheepdog opponents into bad positions on the floor where they can trap. They bring help immediately and Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka, and Nick Collison are all more than willing to give you a stiff forearm to the back down low. Meanwhile, the Lakers can absolutely brutalize their opponents with MWP, Matt Barnes, Josh McRoberts, and Andrew Bynum. The battle between Perkins and Bynum for low-post supremacy remains a key matchup and whoever can establish their physical superiority is going to have a huge edge. Bynum should win based off of just physics, but if he’s not engaged, Perkins can stonewall him.
3. A Mid-Range Oven: In the first two games, Serge Ibaka was 6-11 from mid-range for 55% shooting from space when Pau Gasol was on the floor. He’s usually a 38% shooter from there. Gasol usually shoots 47 percent in the paint, non-restricted area. Against the Thunder, he shot just 33 percent, despite taking a higher than average percentage of his shots from there. Basically, whoever can take over from mid-range is going ot give their team a sizeable advantage. Gasol needs to hit a few over Ibaka using his height advantage to spook the youngster. Once that happens, Ibaka will go for the pump-fake and Gasol can create higher looks for himself and others. This is a crucial matchup for the Lakers, one they have to win.
4. Awkwardness and You: Derek Fisher is embroiled in a bitter dispute with the Players Association, with the Executive Committee having voted 8-0 for a no-confidence vote against the President Fisher and asking him to resign. Fisher refuses. In the middle of all this, Fisher has to go out and be a leader and calming influence on the Thunder, providing valuable backup point guard minutes. Fisher’s a professional, and it’s unlikely that this off-court matter will affect his on-court play. But it’s something to watch, especially in relation to how his teammates approach him.
5. Fresh Legs: The Lakers have to start thinking about resting key players. They need to get healthy and in good condition for the playoffs. They’re a win and a Clippers loss away from clinching the 3rd seed and the Clippers would need a lot of help to overtake them. If the OKC game gets away in either direction for the Lakers, Mike Brown needs to rest his guys. If they catch the Thunder napping, let the bench mob close out the game. If they get blown out of the building, sit Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum and let the Thunder have their way. Burning them out with a week to go makes little sense. Big picture is always more important.
Mar 9, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
Coming into Sunday’s contest, the Bulls had beaten the Heat six of the last seven times the teams met during the regular season in Chicago, and this video clip of action from the first half gives us a glimpse of the reason why. Chicago plays harder than any team in the league on a game-by-game…
Mar 9, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
The Knicks have won three straight and the playoffs, especially in the dreadful Eastern Conference, remain within reach. But gaining entry to the postseason and getting crushed by the Heat or the Pacers in the first round wouldn’t begin to take the sting away from what’s been an underachieving season. What a playoff berth might…
Mar 9, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
LeBron James attended the jersey retirement ceremony of Zydrunas Ilgauskas on Saturday, a move that would have been viewed as unusual by NBA standards even before considering the history that exists between the star player and the team where he began his NBA career. James played his first seven seasons in Cleveland, before infamously spurning…
Mar 9, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
This is a far cry from Chris Paul to DeAndre Jordan, but it’s as close as the Knicks are likely to get. J.R. Smith leads the break late in the second quarter, and tosses it off the backboard for a trailing Amar’e Stoudemire. In the old days, Amar’e would have hammered this one home with…
Mar 9, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
The Magic didn’t beat the Spurs in San Antonio, of course, but this was a nice play by Arron Afflalo to end the first half nonetheless. Tim Duncan has a propensity to turn the ball over in situations like this — end of clock, trying to force a pass — and this time it cost…
Mar 9, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
This wasn’t exactly a dunk on the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo, but he was certainly in the vicinity. Martell Webster got loose on the break, and was quick enough to the rim to avoid the long rookie, but threw the dunk down with such force that he landed somewhat awkwardly on his backside.
Mar 9, 2014, 3:42 AM EDT
This is what the Clippers do, they put on a show. Midway through the first quarter Saturday night Chris Paul made the steal and it was a two-on-none fast break, so Paul went off the backboard to DeAndre Jordan for the slam. Not the best off the backboard I’ve ever seen, but not bad. The…
Mar 8, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT
The Cavaliers raised the jersey of Zydrunas Ilgauskas to the rafters on Saturday, following a ceremony at halftime of Cleveland’s matchup with the Knicks. Ilgauskas delivered a speech and thanked the fans as is customary at these events, and LeBron James was in attendance to honor his former teammate, who had requested his presence. The…
Mar 8, 2014, 9:30 PM EDT
Glen Davis has only been a member of the Clippers for four games, but he’s already sensing something special about his new team. Davis was bought out by the Magic and signed with Los Angeles less than two weeks ago, but played for Doc Rivers in Boston during his first four NBA seasons. He was…
Mar 8, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
Carl Landry appeared in a career-high 81 games for the Warriors last season, and was a key reserve who averaged 10.8 points and six rebounds on a team that made it to the second round of the playoffs. The Kings haven’t sniffed the postseason in eight years, but signed Landry to a four-year deal worth…
Mar 8, 2014, 6:20 PM EDT
Phil Jackson was first offered a head coaching position with the Knicks this week, even though Mike Woodson is still (for reasons unknown) firmly in place. Jackson declined that one, so New York upped the ante with a front office job offer, one that Jackson would reportedly be deciding on in the coming week. No…
Mar 8, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT
BOSTON – On Paul Pierce’s first defensive possession as the Brooklyn Nets’ full-time starting power forward, Serge Ibaka backed him down on the block. Pierce bodied Ibaka, keeping him out of the paint, and Ibaka threw the ball away. On the Oklahoma City Thunder’s next possession, Ibaka posted up Pierce again. Pierce hardly yielded an…
Mar 8, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT
UPDATE 6:20 p.m.: Batum’s nose is not broken after all, according to an updated CSNNW.com report. It’s being called a nasal contusion, and it hasn’t yet been determined if it will require a protective mask. 4:30 p.m.: Well, we know he can’t wear a black mask to protect his face going forward. Portland’s starting swingman…
Mar 8, 2014, 3:01 PM EDT
O.J. Mayo has been suspended one game without pay for “forcibly striking” Greg Stiemsma in the throat during Friday night’s loss to the Pelicans, the league announced on Saturday via official release. This comes as no surprise, as Mayo’s teammate Ersan Ilyasova received a similar suspension for even less of an offense that occurred in…
Mar 8, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Paul Pierce is finishing out his Hall of Fame career with the Nets at the moment, after playing 15 seasons with the Celtics and rising to the top of many of the franchise’s all-time statistical leaders lists. Pierce returned to Boston for the second time this season wearing a different jersey on Friday, but he’ll…
Mar 8, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
Because the Lakers haven’t been embarrassed enough lately… That is Jodie Meeks just getting dropped by Ty Lawson‘s crossover during the Nuggets 134-126 win over the Lakers Friday night in a real defensive struggle. Lawson threw a series of moves at Meeks and got him off balance before dropping the hammer (then making the dish…
Mar 8, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Late in the third quarter Friday with the Rockets leading the Pacers by 23 points, James Harden and Evan Turner got into it a bit, and the players had to be separated after getting face-to-face and a little shoving ensued. This appeared to be Harden intentionally agitating things, as this play had been whistled dead…
Mar 8, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
Even after three straight losses, the Indiana Pacers remain the team with the league’s best record, though they’re now tied with Oklahoma City for that honor while sitting at 46-16 in the standings. But the last two losses have been troubling. On Wednesday, Indiana lost by 22 points to a Bobcats team that is five…
Mar 8, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Earlier this week I gave you a few highlights of my conversation with author Jeff Pearlman, who has a fantastic new book out on the Showtime era Lakers. Now, I bring you our entire conversation. In this latest edition of the PBT podcast myself and Eytan Shander of NBC Sports Radio discuss Phil Jackson and his…
Mar 8, 2014, 2:54 AM EDT
The Lakers have lost a lot of games this season (42 to be exact), but the historic 48-point blowout loss to the Clippers Thursday night on national television hit the fan base hard. Many of these fans rooting for them to lose and get a better draft pick were embarrassed at the lack of defensive…
- Former GM: Carmelo Anthony leaving in free agency would be ‘doing Knicks a favor’ 8
- Report: Cavaliers privately believe it’s not too late to lure LeBron back to Cleveland 11
- Report: Phil Jackson ‘leaning toward’ accepting offer to become Knicks president 39
- Paul Pierce’s move to power forward adds twist to his career, Brooklyn Nets’ season 5
- O.J. Mayo suspended one game for punching Pelicans’ Greg Stiemsma in the throat (VIDEO) 6