Instead of following a win with a nice, comfortable stretch of games to build some sort of winning streak, the Los Angeles Lakers have to face a team that has already beaten them twice this season and quite a few would argue is the best in the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
When the two teams met for the first time this season on December 7, the mood wasn’t as low and grim in Laker-land as it is now. The Thunder won 114-108, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant combining for 69 points. Just over two weeks ago, and the Thunder caught the Lakers in the middle of everything that has gone wrong, beating the biggest disappointment of the NBA season 116-101, as Durant puts on a show with 42 points.
And now the Lakers head into this game after feeling they’re on the verge of turning the ship around. A win against the biggest challenge they can face would certainly be proof they’re on the right way. A loss? In basketball, few believe there are moral victories. Keeping the mind-frame of their previous win, a 102-84 victory against the Jazz, in which Kobe Bryant proved again that the fewer shots he takes, the better the Lakers are (finishing with 14 points and 14 assists). Dwight Howard enjoyed the new focus on offense, with 17 points on 8-12 from the field.
The Thunder are the team that will dictate what happens on the Staples Center floor. Russell Westbrook deciding which side to wake up on, meaning how many useless jumpers he decides to take in a game which should be about him torching Steve Nash while making life very difficult for whoever it is guarding the paint for the Lakers very difficult, might be the most important factor. Westbrook was horrendous in the loss to the Warriors (3-16 from the field), but a tad more restrained in the win against the Kings with 7-18, 18 points and 14 assists. Kevin Durant? We all know what we’ll get from him.
Prediction – Even if the Lakers play perfectly, it might not be enough. This game is about Russell Westbrook actually having a memory, remembering that it’s better if he thinks before he shoots, and possibly working Kevin Durant an Serge Ibaka might be more beneficial than him doing whatever he wants on the floor.