Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Oklahoma City Thunder (42-12) vs Los Angeles Lakers (18-34)

Current Records: Oklahoma City Thunder (42-12), Los Angeles Lakers (18-34)

Last time they met: Oklahoma City Thunder (122) defeated Los Angeles Lakers (97)

Tickets: Thunder @ Lakers tickets

Pre-game Notes:

Two sides who are in totally different stages of development. The Los Angeles Lakers were the team that the Thunder had difficulty with when they first made the playoffs, but it is a much different state of affairs these days. The Thunder are rolling and will be wanting to close out this first “half” of the season (prior to the All Star break) with a big win. They traveled into Portland and took the win in a close encounter against the division rival Blazers, but this matchup should prove a little easier.

Where the Thunder have depth and talent, the Los Angeles Lakers have “bodies” and in their recent game against the Cleveland Cavaliers (a win no-less!) they didn’t even have that. The Lakers have struggled to keep the team healthy using 26 different starting combinations and the task isn’t going to be any easier against the Thunder with Kobe Bryant still out – headlining a long injury list including Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and more.

The Thunder will be looking to get win number 43 while the Lakers will be trying to avoid their longest home losing streak in history after dropping 6 in a row at the Staples Center. The Lakers have lost 21 of their past 26 games and those five wins have come against Utah, Toronto, Boston, Cleveland and Philadelphia – hardly the ilk of the league leading Oklahoma City Thunder.

Key Matchups:

Kevin Durant vs Wesley Johnson

Kevin Durant is the best player in the game right now. While that might draw some criticism from LeBron lovers, the fact of the matter is – it’s true. He single-handedly kept the Thunder in the Portland game until the rest of the crew were able to find their shot, step up and get it done. He is the most efficient and talented scorer in the league and he will be covered by a reserve player. While Wes Johnson is actually quite a talented player, asking him to come into this game and stop Durant is mission impossible. Johnson will try and make it hard for Durant, but even the games better defenders like Batum can’t curb the influence KD has on a game. The last time the Lakers played the Thunder, Durant was super effective and put on a clinic of efficiency. He probably won’t get out of third gear in this one, might sit the entire last quarter but will still put this game out of reach early.

Serge Ibaka vs Shawne Williams

There is a lot of length, athleticism and shot blocking prowess in this matchup. It could be quite entertaining to watch as Ibaka will want to try and get back into some form. He was quiet against the Blazers after being superb for the past month and a half while the Thunder have taken on all comers. The focus is firmly on Durant, but Serge has been equally as brilliant in the role he has played for OKC during the season. I would expect him to bounce back and have a double-double, something around 20-12 with a handful of blocks for good measure. If he can provide the Thunder with another avenue to the scoreboard – this one could get very ugly if you are a Laker fan.

Reggie Jackson vs Steve Blake / Kendall Marshall

It was a tale of two halves for Jackson in his most recent outing. He couldn’t throw a beach ball in the ocean during the first half, but sprung to life in the third term, scoring 13 explosive points and getting the Thunder back on track. The point guard position for the Lakers is a massive concern at the best of times and with Steve Nash again sidelined, the task of stopping Reggie is going to fall on Steve Blake and Kendall Marshall. The quickness of Jackson is going to make it almost impossible to stop him getting in the lane, so they will need to make Reggie a jump shooter. Even that could spell trouble and Jackson might be looking at a huge game.

Prediction:

It’s tough to really say much else about this matchup. The Thunder are rolling into the All Star break while the Lakers are limping into a much needed rest weekend. This one might be a blowout early and if that is the case, look for the Thunder to get some solid minutes into their reserve unit highlighted by Jeremy Lamb, Steve Adams and Perry Jones III. The Thunder have a knack for dropping games they should win though so you have to mention it when predicting the outcome, but I think there are far too many positives for the Thunder in this one and the Lakers are struggling for personnel so it’s a 117 – 92 win to OKC.

Tags: Los Angeles Lakers Oklahoma City Thunder

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