OKC Thunder tackle West top seeded Lakers – gameday preview

LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers plays defense on Chris Paul #3 of the OKC Thunder on November 22, (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)
LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers plays defense on Chris Paul #3 of the OKC Thunder on November 22, (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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OKC Thunder
OKC Thunder (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

Transition defense:

Having played the Rockets on Thursday turned out to be a good test since they play with the fastest pace in the Association. Likewise, the Lakers are a team that thrives in pace especially when Anthony Davis is on the court.

Frank Vogel stated after the Dallas victory his club is intent on playing aggressive and picking up the pace, so if there is one big difference from the initial meetings between these clubs that may be the largest.

LeBron James is a master at getting passes to his team, particularly in the fast break or via one of those long bomb passes akin to what Steven Adams tossed up to Dennis Schroder in a recent match.

The Thunder will need to be sharp in transition clogging those lanes and making it difficult for the Lakers crew getting to an open corner for the quick toss ahead catch and shoot 3-pointer.

Dealing with the size:

The OKC Thunder will be in tough when it comes to matching up with the Lakers in terms of their sheer size. Making matters more difficult is the Thunder won’t have Nerlens Noel for this match although Billy Donovan said Danilo Gallinari wouldn’t play against the Rockets and he did, so this could also be a bit of cat and mouse going on.

Typically Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has a size advantage against his counterparts but he may encounter LeBron James defending him which isn’t an ideal situation. What the Thunder do have as an advantage is uncertainty of who’ll be the offensive weapon which forces defenses to cover every player.

Steven Adams will need to be better than JaVale McGee/Dwight Howard while Gallo will either have a task in guarding Davis or an advantage in guarding Kyle Kuzma. If the latter occurs look for Donovan to go at Kuzma on defense and get him out of the game since he’s occupying the secondary scoring option if AD can’t go tonight.

Ultimately, Donovan has two options he can try to capitalize on his three-guard lineup and force the Lakers to deal with small ball and speed or he can try to match up man to man using their more athletic, lengthy defenders.

Of note, the teams who’ve excelled against the Lakers have a few common traits. Teams like the Raptors, Bucks, and Mavericks pushed the pace and spread the court with multiple perimeter threats combined with equally talented driving options (Pascal Siakam/Giannis Antetokounmpo/Luka Doncic) whereas the Clippers and Pacers focused more on defense and wearing down the Lakers.

Aside from Dallas, the other clubs are all top defensive units. Going at the Lakers defensively and wearing them down over four quarters is another strategy that has worked twice for the Clippers. And, with this being a back-to-back set for the Lakers and potential Davis can’t go that’s a smart choice with the 35-year-old James needing to carry the load.

Regardless of what option Donovan employs the glass is a major concern with the necessity to keep the Lakers bigs and wings off the boards for easy put backs.

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Matchup Keys:

Clearly Terrance Ferguson will need to bring his A+ game to the floor in order to deal with LeBron James and no doubt Billy Donovan will task several different players to guard the King and send numerous double teams.

That said there are other more intriguing matchups that Donovan can take advantage of, particularly if Davis can’t go tonight. The Gallinari – Kuzma matchup could pay big dividends for OKC.

Adams is a younger, more talented big than either of his counterparts and going with him early could reap rewards.

But, the greatest advantage lies in capitalizing on the trio of guards and athletic wings the Thunder can throw at LA. Each of Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder can feast against Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

Finally, Donovan needs to employ the sheer athleticism of Hamidou Diallo, Terrance Ferguson, and Darius Bazley to run, cut and drive and force the Lakers wings into having to play constant defense. In the first two outing both Bazley and Diallo had one of their better showings so look for Billy D to employ them in spurts to keep the Lakers defending. Likewise, recalling the match earlier this season in LA, Deonte Burton was one of the best defenders on LeBron so Billy should keep options like that open by putting fresh legs on James.

Most importantly, the Thunder can’t afford to allow LeBron James time off on the defensive end as a rested James is tantamount to giving the Lakers easy offense.

The Whistle:

If you caught the Mavericks game the whistle was biased and blatantly in favor of the Lakers (especially early) with their bigs being allowed to push off, hold and foul and any 50-50 call went in favor of LA. This season has already been fraught with poor officiating so the Thunder will need to stay composed, enter the match aware this could be an issue and adapt to whatever the officials dictate.

Keep the game close:

Last night the Lakers compiled 79 points by the half and never looked back. The Thunder need to stay close, wear down the Lakers. The longer OKC is in this match and keeps the Lakers employed on the defensive end the better their chances are of wearing them down and winning in the final frame.

Sure, the Lakers have that guy LeBron but as the Clippers demonstrated if you wear him out he’s less efficient at game end. Be physical with James and with him playing on a back-to-back, again it favors the Thunder.