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Oklahoma City Thunder (46-16) vs Los Angeles Lakers (21-42) preview

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Current Records: Oklahoma City Thunder (46-15), Los Angeles Lakers  (21-42)

Last time they met: Oklahoma City Thunder (107) defeated Los Angeles Lakers (103).

Pre-game Notes:

The Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Lakers last squared off just before the All Star Break. The Thunder managed to scrape home in that one but will want a more impressive showing. Since the last time these two met, the Thunder have gone just 3-4 and coughed up the game against the Phoenix Suns.

The Los Angeles Lakers are also struggling and after the biggest defeat in franchise history (49 points) at the hands of rivals the Los Angeles Clippers, the Lakers dropped another high scoring affair to the Denver Nuggets. These teams are on very different trajectories with the Thunder trying to build some form and continuity in the race to the playoffs, while the Lakers are more focused on the rebuild via the lottery at the end of the season.

This could be a bit of a shootout unless the Thunder can re-establish their defensive intensity. With Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha both sidelined through injury, OKC have essentially lost the two best defenders on  the team. Steve Adam, Perry Jones and Caron Butler are all trying to fill that void, but it just hasn’t happened effectively.

Key Matchups:

Serge Ibaka vs Pau Gasol

Two very different but very talented power forward will face off against each other and will be key to their teams success. Ibaka has shown tremendous offensive improvement this season while also carrying the defense and protecting the rim. The Lakers will once again rely very heavily on the talented Spaniard Gasol who has a number of tools at his disposal. Ibaka will want to keep him off the block and force him to give up the ball to teammates.

Kevin Durant vs Wesley Johnson (and others)

It will be another long night for the Lakers as they have to once again continually chase around arguably the games best scorer. Durant had 34 point, 7 rebs and 5 ast against the Suns and he is in great form. Even with Westbrook back, the offense still runs a great deal through the MVP candidate and he will get his fair share of looks. With the Lakers defense leaking so many points over the last handful of games, it could lead to a very big night for Durant and others. He will see Wes Johnson, Jodie Meeks and others from time to time and their goal with just to try and make things as difficult as they can for KD.

Russell Westbrook vs Kendall Marshall

There is little doubt that Russ is almost back to his best. He had a team high 36 points and was super effective against Goran Dragic and the Suns. This time, he will be matched up against Kendall Marshall who has done a terrific job in the absence of Steve Nash and really distributes the ball well. Westbrook won’t be able to take it easy though because if Marshall can get the rest of his teammate good looks, things could go pear-shaped quickly. Look for Russ to really hone in defensively and try to attack the rim every chance he gets.

Prediction:

Even though it is at the Staples Center, it looks to be a long night for the Los Angeles Lakers. Oklahoma City will be rectifying the issues that have plagued them since the All Star break and will want a win, and a big win at that. They will also like to see a bit more of their new addition Caron Butler and perhaps might even find minutes for Reggie Williams who has been signed to a 10-day contract. Although the Lakers surprised the Thunder last time and made it close, don’t expect OKC to make the same mistake again.They will be ready, focused and should win comfortably. Thunder 120, Lakers 95.

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Tags: Los Angeles Lakers Oklahoma City Thunder

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