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. Reports: Paul Pierce agrees to three-year, $10 million contract with Los Angeles Clippers

    Jul 1, 2015, 7:34 PM EDT

    Boston Celtics small forward Paul Pierce and head coach Doc Rivers react during a break in fourth quarter action against the Miami Heat in Game 2 of their NBA Eastern Conference basketball playoff series in Miami Reuters

    Would Paul Pierce agree to this if DeAndre Jordan were leaving town?

  2. Reports: Paul Millsap agrees to re-sign with Hawks for three years, $59 million

    Jul 1, 2015, 7:07 PM EDT

    Atlanta Hawks v Washington Wizards-Game Three Getty Images

    Millsap had been flirting with Orlando but chose a shorter deal in Atlanta.

  3. Report: Iman Shumpert to meet with other teams as he struggles to reach deal with Cavaliers

    Jul 1, 2015, 6:31 PM EDT

    Oklahoma City Thunder v Cleveland Cavaliers Getty Images

    He is using this to leverage the Cavaliers, but the door is open.

  4. Report: Thunder reach deal five-year, $25 million deal to keep Kyle Singler

    Jul 1, 2015, 6:07 PM EDT

    Oklahoma City Thunder v Minnesota Timberwolves Getty Images

    This is a contract the Thunder can live with or move, depending.

  5. Report: Talks between Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors break down

    Jul 1, 2015, 4:51 PM EDT

    Memphis Grizzlies v Golden State Warriors - Game Two Getty Images

    Even if another team signs him to an offer sheet, the Warriors will just match it.

  6. Report: LaMarcus Aldridge rules out Lakers in free agent decision

    Jul 1, 2015, 4:47 PM EDT

    LaMarcus Aldridge LaMarcus Aldridge

    Aldridge and Kobe Bryant didn’t quite click in their meeting.

  7. Report: Amir Johnson agrees to two-year, $24 million deal with Celtics

    Jul 1, 2015, 4:11 PM EDT

    Amir Johnson Amir Johnson

    Boston gets nice value on a short-term frontcourt upgrade.

  8. Report: Cavaliers, Tristan Thompson near five-year, $80 million contract

    Jul 1, 2015, 3:09 PM EDT

    2015 NBA Finals - Game Six Getty Images

    The road to the NBA Finals out of the East — and maybe to the Larry O’Brien trophy itself — goes through Cleveland.

  9. Alex Ajinca re-signs with Pelicans for four years, reported $20.5 million

    Jul 1, 2015, 2:28 PM EDT

    New Orleans Pelicans v Minnesota Timberwolves Getty Images

    The Pelicans were +10 per 48 minutes with an offensive rating of 111.9 (points per 100 possessions) when Anthony Davis and Ajinca were paired last season.

  10. Report: Raptors, DeMarre Carroll agree to four-year deal worth $60 million

    Jul 1, 2015, 12:29 PM EDT

    Nice get for Toronto, and a Hawks team that won 60 games is going to look very different next season.

  11. Report: Spurs reach deal to trade Tiago Splitter to Hawks, create cap space for LaMarcus Aldridge offer

    Jul 1, 2015, 12:03 PM EDT

    Tiago Splitter, LaMarcus Aldridge AP

    The Spurs can now offer Aldridge the chance to return to his native Texas and walk right onto a serious title contender.

Top 10 NBA Player Searches
  1. L. Aldridge (5062)
  2. D. Wade (4648)
  3. J. Embiid (3917)
  4. L. James (3783)
  5. K. Love (3408)
  1. K. Bryant (3280)
  2. D. Cousins (3097)
  3. T. Harris (2860)
  4. J. Butler (2819)
  5. G. Monroe (2589)