Skip to content

Improved Lakers get measuring stick game against Thunder

Mar 5, 2013, 5:53 PM EDT

Oklahoma City Thunder v Los Angeles Lakers Getty Images

There was a time not so long ago when the up-and-coming Thunder were measuring their improvement against the Lakers.

Now, it’s the Western Conference champion Thunder that are the measuring stick and the Lakers who want to see where they stand after a run of better play. The two face off Tuesday night in Oklahoma City.

It’s been well documented that after Lakers started the season an unimpressive 17-25 they have started to turn it around and gone 13-5 since. The thing is, it’s not that the Lakers are dramatically better in their last 18 overall — their point differential per 100 possessions +2.5, less than one point per 100 better than it was when they were eight games below .500.

What has changed is they got healthy, and with their key guys got to play together for a stretch modified Mike D’Antoni system, and with all that they started to find there identity. It’s taken a lot of Kobe Bryant — sometimes as scorer, sometimes as facilitator. It’s taken Steve Nash to work a lot off the ball. It’s taken Dwight Howard defending and playing more pick-and-roll. It’s been the role players finding their way.

It’s been the Lakers finally forming an identity like was expected of them in training camp (but injuries and a coaching change to a radically different system delayed that cohesion). Now that they have a sense of self the Lakers are winning the close ones they lost earlier in the season. Such as the 99-98 win over the Hawks on Sunday. John Schuhmann has all the numbers to back this up over at NBA.com — the Lakers with an identity are playing much better in the clutch than they did. They are now a .500 team.

But the Thunder are a whole new level of challenge. They are the measuring stick. They are still the favorites to make the finals out of the West, they have the best scorer in the game in Kevin Durant.

What are the keys for Tuesday night? They all revolve around the Lakers defense, because the Lakers will score some (that Kobe Bryant guy is pretty good) but the question is can they slow the Thunder at all:

1) The Lakers transition defense. Among all their many weaknesses this season, this has been the biggest — if you can run on the Lakers you can beat them. Los Angeles allows teams to shoot 58.1 percent in transition and score 1.16 points per possession, 23rd in the NBA. In the first meeting between these teams this year the Thunder shot 9-of-11 in transition and 3-of-3 from three. If this is an up-tempo game it will not be a close one.

2) Lakers pick-and-roll defense against Westbrook. It’s been improved in recent weeks but in the first meeting the Lakers struggled to stop Russell Westbrook (33 points) on this play. Westbrook has 60 points combined in the first two meetings this season. If Westbrook in particular, but also Kevin Durant and others, are allowed to probe and create off the pick-and-roll the Lakers defense will get picked apart and they will struggle.

On the other hand, when Westbrook went cold — 6-of-22 in the last meeting of these teams — the Lakers got the win. I say went cold because Westbrook completed just 3-of-8 shots inside the restricted area and I’m not sure the Lakers should count on that again. But the Lakers also turned him into a jump shooter and he struggled in that role — Dwight Howard is key here taking away the paint from Westbrook on drives.

3) Can Los Angeles slow Kevin Durant. I know, everyone writes they want to do this and he’s the league’s three-time leading scoring champ for a reason. He dropped 42 on them in a game this season. However, in the last meeting the Lakers had some success with Earl Clark — Durant was 3-of-11 with Clark on him. I’m not sure I’d want to bet on that trend continuing, but you can bet the Lakers go back to that well and if Clark can even just slow Durant and make him work for his baskets it will help.

Latest Posts
  1. Report: Thanasis Antetokounmpo chooses Knicks D-League team over playing in Europe next season

    Aug 21, 2014, 8:59 PM EDT

    thanasis nba draft

    Knicks finally considering the importance of developing young talent for the future.

  2. Report: Timberwolves to end up with Thad Young, Anthony Bennett as part of Kevin Love trade

    Aug 21, 2014, 7:31 PM EDT

    Kevin Love Kevin Love

    Wiggins too, while guys like Alexey Shved will be sent to the Sixers.

  3. Shaq answers the question: Kobe or LeBron?

    Aug 21, 2014, 6:12 PM EDT

    Shaquille O'Neal AP

    Gone are the days when Shaq would have used this as an opportunity to take a shot at Kobe.

  4. NBA GM says ‘there’s no reason’ to trade for restricted free agents Greg Monroe or Eric Bledsoe

    Aug 21, 2014, 5:02 PM EDT

    John Loyer, Greg Monroe John Loyer, Greg Monroe

    Why give up assets now, when either player could be signed outright as an unrestricted free agent next summer?

  5. DeMarcus Cousins wants to be the third ‘Splash Brother’ (VIDEO)

    Aug 21, 2014, 3:59 PM EDT

    Los Angeles Clippers v Sacramento Kings Getty Images

    Stephen Curry: “We’re still taking applications.”

  6. Jeremy Lin smashes a cake in his mother’s face (Instagram)

    Aug 21, 2014, 12:10 PM EDT

    Jeremy Lin Jeremy Lin

    Being Jeremy Lin’s parent must be an interesting experience. What do you say to him to correct him.

  7. Kyrie Irving with crossover, step-back jumper for Team USA (VIDEO)

    Aug 21, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT

    Team USA Showcase Getty Images

    It’s a great move, one Irving pulls off almost ever game.

  8. Derrick Rose says he’ll play Friday vs. Puerto Rico

    Aug 21, 2014, 10:45 AM EDT

    Derrick Rose, Tom Thibodeau Derrick Rose, Tom Thibodeau

    Patience is the right play here. And patience is never popular with any fan base.

  9. Kentucky’s Calipari calls David Blatt right guy to coach Cavaliers

    Aug 21, 2014, 9:45 AM EDT

    David Blatt David Blatt

    Blatt can coach, but if it takes a season for the Cavaliers to find their identity (as it did with LeBron in Miami) will he get the chance to stick around for it?

  10. Report: Don’t be so sure on Anthony Bennett to Philadelphia rumors

    Aug 21, 2014, 9:16 AM EDT

    Anthony Bennett Anthony Bennett

    If you’re now rebuilding in Minnesota, why trade Bennett?

  11. DeMar DeRozan leads Team USA in scoring, could well stick with team (VIDEO)

    Aug 21, 2014, 1:33 AM EDT

    Dominican Republic v United States Getty Images

    He also was a scoring machine at the showcase in Las Vegas.

  12. Coach K: No Team USA cuts before Friday’s game

    Aug 20, 2014, 11:15 PM EDT

    Team USA Practice Session Getty Images

    16 players will practice and be available for Friday’s game against Puerto Rico, but the roster needs to be trimmed to 12 in advance of the FIBA World Cup.

  13. Wednesday And-1 links: Youths who entered Ray Allen’s home charged with trespassing

    Aug 20, 2014, 9:45 PM EDT

    2014 NBA Finals - Practice Day And Media Availability Getty Images

    Including a link to the trailers of the STARZ show LeBron James is producing loosely based on his life

Featured video

Will LeBron get booed Christmas Day in Miami?
Top 10 NBA Player Searches
  1. D. Rose (3532)
  2. L. James (2190)
  3. S. Marion (2141)
  4. K. Bryant (2108)
  5. D. Cousins (2088)
  1. R. Allen (1938)
  2. A. Davis (1899)
  3. C. Anthony (1811)
  4. P. George (1808)
  5. K. Irving (1769)