Los Angeles Lakers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
NBA / Western Conference
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK
Thursday, February 23rd, 2012. 9:30 PM EST
Analysis of the Los Angeles Lakers
Following a difficult stretch where PF Pau Gasol was slumping, and the Lakers looked like they might be in a tough situation, star SG Kobe Bryant called a players-only meeting to correct the issues the Lakers were facing and set the tone for the rest of the season. The 20-13 squad listened and won their next two games, including a win on the road over the defending champion Mavericks. The Lakers, perhaps now the hottest team in the land, will have a tough test on the road in OKC however.
Analysis of the Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder is what the NBA is all about. Through keen drafting (getting the entire core of their team during the 2007, 2008, and 2009 drafts), and other smart roster moves the Thunder have built a championship-calibre team from the ground up and with little trade help. They’re a small-market team with team-first players (including two-time scoring champion SF Kevin Durant) and a win-or-go-home philosophy. There is little doubt that this team, with the NBA’s best record at 26-7, will be a tough team to knock out in May and will at least be difficult to handle during the 2nd half of the year.
Los Angeles Lakers: C Andrew Bynum
The 24-year-old sensation is a first-time All-Star this year and probably the 2nd best center in the league (behind Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic). He has played out of his mind so far in 2012 but will have a difficult test against the stingy defence of centers Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins. A night where he can put up his normal numbers against those two is needed for the Lakers to win away from home.
Oklahoma City Thunder: PG Russell Westbrook
Westbrook is the unsung hero of the Thunder. Just 23, Westbrook is a 2-time All-Star and one of the top-5 point guards in the league. He’s often overshadowed by Durant though and is given a lot of flak from fans for losses when, frankly, he doesn’t deserve it. The star is averaging 23 points, and a game where he puts up somewhere around 30 against a PG-weak Lakers squad would almost guarantee a Thunder victory.
The Lakers are a decent shot-blocking team (with the combo of Bynum and Pau Gasol you’d expect nothing less), but the Thunder are the best in the country. Averaging a ludicrous eight blocks each night, the Thunder count on Ibaka to get the majority of these rejections. The Lakers only average five blocks, and that 3-block differential could mean a 6-9 point difference in the game favouring the Thunder. With two elite teams like this, those points could mean the game.
The Lakers, while hot, haven’t yet gone up against the Thunder in Oklahoma City again. There the Thunder have only lost one game, and the crowd will be there to make sure they don’t make it 2. This matchup is difficult to analyse in that both teams are playing exceptionally well and both teams are very similar. They have their respective superstars as well as their invaluable role players and the one supporting All-Star (Westbrook and Gasol respectively). Ultimately I think this is a coin flip, and I’ll give the edge to the home team.
Prediction = Oklahoma City Thunder: 99 – Los Angeles Lakers: 97