The Los Angeles Lakers (15-20) and the Oklahoma City Thunder (27-8) are going in opposite directions at this point in the season. The Lakers are on a five-game losing streak for the first time in almost two years and the Thunder sit a game and a half out of first place in the west and only 8-thousandths of a point behind the Clippers for best winning percentage in the NBA. The Thunder return to Staples for the first time since May 19 of last year, when the Thunder took a 3-1 series lead over the Lakers in the Conference Semifinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs. However, it’s the second matchup of the season between the two with Oklahoma City holding off a late-run by the Lakers to win 114-108 back on December 7.
In the last matchup, the Lakers were without Steve Nash and Pau Gasol. Tonight, the Lakers will take on one of the league’s best team’s without Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, and Jordan Hill. Los Angeles is trying to avoid a six game losing streak, playing at Staples Center, where they are 10-8 on the season. The Lakers always seem to be playing from behind in the second half of games. They give up big leads early and try to claw back in the fourth quarter, which has proven to be too late, ala the loss to San Antonio on Wednesday. The Lakers problem isn’t difficult to pinpoint, it’s their defense. They are 26th in the NBA in points allowed per game (101.7). The solution, however, has proven more complicated as the Lakers continue to portray an apathetic mindset on the defensive end of the court. The Thunder are second in the NBA in points scored per game at 105.4, so if the Lakers fail to adjust their lackadaisical play on defense, it will be a long night for the Lakers.
The Thunder have an immense amount of talent on the offensive end of the court. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will be the premier scoring duo in the NBA for the next decade. Their athleticism and ability to score points is virtually impossible to stop. If Durant has an off night, which rarely happens, Westbrook can drive to the basket for high percentage looks. If Westbrook is bottled up, they have one the leading candidates for sixth man of the year in Kevin Martin, who is averaging 15.3 points per game and shooting 44% from three-point range. They score in bunches and play tough defense, ranking 9th in points allowed per game (96.3) and holding opponents to only 43% shooting from the field (2nd in NBA). The Thunder will expose the Lakers lack of size down-low but Los Angeles must prevent Russell Westbrook from penetrating their defense and getting hot from the outside.
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