Rosen’s Report: OKC at L.A. Lakers




In the wake of their recent trouncing of Miami, the Thunder are convinced that they are destined to be champs. Their occasional lapses in focus, however, still need to be remedied. Here is a chance for OKC to restore their A-game and discourage the reconstituted Lakers from thinking that they are now the best in the West.

After previously being a good-to-middling team, the Lakers believe that the addition of Ramon Sessions does indeed make them a legitimate championship contender. Even as Sessions’ shakedown cruise continues, L.A. seeks to prove that they now have the size and the speed to quell the Thunder.

HOW THE THUNDER CAN WIN

• Kevin Durant has to escape the defensive clutches of Metta World Peace to score at least 30 efficient points. To accomplish this, KD must move without the ball, drop beacoup treys, and also knife his way to the rim. In so doing, he must be prepared to be physically assaulted. Moreover, when Durant moves into the low post, his passing options have to be expanded by his teammates executing more dive-cuts and fades than are generally included in OKC’s game plan.

Russell Westbrook must play under control, limit his wild passes, and avoid jacking up too-quick jumpers. He should be able to overpower and outquick Sessions on offense, but must be careful not to reach and gamble for steals when checking his opposite number on defense.

Thabo Sefolosha has the difficult task of preventing Kobe Bryant from dominating the game. How to do this? Sefolosha’s long-armed defense can both play Kobe for the drive and still flick a hand at jumpers. Also, if Kobe’s scoring is up this season, so are his minutes and his turnovers, while his field goal percentages — especially from beyond the arc (.289) — are way down. Sefolosha also has to concentrate on playing Kobe straight up and not biting on fakes when Bryant drives. When Kobe does penetrate, Sefolosha’s teammates have to be in position to defend Bryant’s quick spins and subsequent shots. At the other end, Sefolosha must hit a few 3-balls, run on the break and make his own ventures into the paint to make Kobe work, and also to prevent the Lakers’ defense from loading up on Durant and Westbrook.

It’s imperative that Serge Ibaka drains most of the uncontested mid-range jumpers that will be available when Pau Gasol is forced to clog the lane to contest the penetrations of Durant, Westbrook and James Harden. As OKC’s only reliable shot-blocker, Ibaka also has to make judicious rotations to the ball. And his quick hops must be instrumental in keeping the Lakers’ big front line from prevailing in the battle of the boards.

Kendrick Perkins has the mass and the will power to play body-up defense against Andrew Bynum. Boxing out the Lakers’ All-Star center is a must, as is depending on his teammates to anticipate Bynum’s penchant for reversing direction nearly every time he attacks the rim. However, under no circumstances should Perkins be allowed to guard Gasol, since his limited lateral movement becomes an issue when he defends an opponent who can turn, face, and then either shoot or go. Aside from putbacks and working the latter end of screen-rolls, Perkins can generate scoring opportunities by setting a pin-down screen for Durant and then turning to seal his man in the pivot. With the Thunder, Perkins has also mastered the knack of sliding into open spaces behind the defense when the penetrations of Durant and Westbrook necessarily draw a crowd. And, like Sefolosha, Perkins has to be at least a minimal threat to score in the pivot to keep LA’s defense honest.  Above all, Perkins must stay out of foul trouble — this means making sure that his screens are stationary and secure.

Harden is simply the best sixth man in the NBA. If his jumpers are clicking, then his tricky left-handed drives make him virtually unstoppable. Because Harden is a powerful-yet-merely-adequate defender, he’ll need plenty of help when he’s matched up against Kobe.

Nick Collison has the defensive chops — if not the length — to discomfort Gasol’s offense.

Derek Fisher may hit a long-ball or two, and draw an occasional charge, yet he contributes as much off the court as he does when the game lights are on. His serious game-preparation, devotion to details, perpetual intensity and championship-hardened maturity have already made the Thunder a better team. When his number is called, he’ll more than hold his own when operating against Steve Blake.

When Perkins is taking a blow, the Thunder field the quickest five in the league and should be able to outrun the Lakers. In addition, OKC’s bench is deeper and more potent.

The keys to victory are keeping the offense from stagnating, competing on even terms in the rebounding department, clogging the lane to make the 3-ball-challenged Lakers beat them from over the top, and taking better care of the ball than they usually do.

HOW THE LAKERS CAN WIN

• Kobe must have a big-time game, knocking down at least half of his jumpers to make OKC pay dearly for two-timing Bynum, and also earning squatter’s rights at the stripe. To some degree, he’ll be able to play free-safety when opposing Sefolosha but will have to revert to his stopper-days when facing Harden.

• Bynum has become the focus of L.A.’s offense with his tight spins (which will be particularly effective against Perkins) and rapidly expanding offensive arsenal. Even so, he must be careful to avoid dribbling in heavy traffic, an unfortunate tendency of his that leads to turnovers. When guarded by either Ibaka or Collison, Bynum should be able to outsize and out-strength them, but should be wary of double-teamings. Bynum should have an easy time in defending Perkins or Collison, yet Ibaka’s face-up shooting and quick handle puts him at a severe disadvantage. Historically, Bynum has been lax in his show-defense on high screen/rolls, which could be fatal since this strategy is essential to the Thunder’s game plan. Also, because OKC always looks to push the ball, Bynum can’t afford to lag in transition.

• Gasol has to make his mid-range jumpers, menace OKC’s attempted layups, be a constant tip-in threat and be permitted to exploit his size and length advantages when matched up against either Ibaka or Collison. Why Gasol doesn’t get more touches in the pivot against all comers remains a mystery.

• Sessions’ 3-point shooting has undergone a remarkable improvement. This is a critical factor since only Charlotte and Utah are more inept from out there than the Lakers. Given that he only recently arrived, it’s remarkable that Sessions makes such quick and sure decisions with the ball — and if he’d rather drive right he can finish either way. He tends to be suckered by shot fakes and, if he can be beaten off the dribble by lesser opponents, Sessions will need lots of help to contain Westbrook. Overall, Sessions must bag his triples and keep pushing the ball.

• World Peace has to bang Durant all over the court, a tactic that has been highly successful in the past. The object is to force KD to run wide circles instead of semi-straight lines, as well as to flinch whenever World Peace challenges his shots.  Since he has lost a step but has retained the quickness of his hands, World Peace is still capable of discombobulating Durant. On offense, World Peace has to control his tendency to get overly anxious when he hasn’t shot the ball in a while and then force up an ill-advised, rhythm-killing heave.

Matt Barnes brings scrappy defense off the bench, full-court hustle and erratic shooting. His primary task, however, will be to put Harden’s offense in a box.

• With Sessions now claiming the starting position, Steve Blake reverts to the backup role that suits him best. His defense is above average, but he must make quicker decisions with the ball and hit some open 3-pointers.

Troy Murphy is a plodding defender, sure-handed rebounder and semi-reliable long-distance bomber. Any positive production from Murphy would be a bonus.

• Even though L.A.’s team-wide offense is decidedly mediocre, it should thrive against OKC’s minimal defense. However, despite the uptempo pace that Sessions brings, the Lakers must run sparingly and slow the game down so that Gasol and Bynum can overwhelm OKC’s interior defense.

• Early in the first and third quarters, Kobe will get the ball after setting and receiving combo-screens. Otherwise, the Lakers’ offense is reduced to dumping the ball inside to Bynum or letting Kobe operate one-on-one. The predictable nature of this late-half and late-game strategy must be remedied.

• The Lakers must avoid their periodic spells of lackadaisical defense.

• Alert baseline help and perimeter rotations can change Westbrook’s penetrations into turnovers and run-outs.

• Since Ikaba is OKC’s only viable shot-blocker, the basket can be attacked with impunity.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

  1. Will Harden outscore all of the Lakers’ subs?
  2. Who will be the next key player to be dissed and benched in the endgame in Mike Brown’s continuing effort to try and exert control over the team?
  3. Which total will be more: the Lakers’ second-chance shots or the Thunder’s points on the run?
  4. How many times will World Peace knock Durant to the floor?
  5. Which team will get away with more moving screens?

Charley Rosen is a former pro basketball player and coach and author of 16 books on basketball.

39 Comments

  1. BelizeBoy says:

    Fisher is gonna get his 6th ring before Kobe lol.

  2. Muhammad Ali says:

    The Lakers are gonna float like a butterfly and sting like a bee!!!! Haha!

  3. bfbos says:

    bynum will shoot a 3

  4. lakers rocks says:

    LA LAKERS WILL WIN FOR SURE
    THUNDERS ARE FOR THE HOPELESS

  5. rasta says:

    lakers will will i know it….

  6. SPURSANITY says:

    Final Score:

    OKC – 150

    LAL – 149

    :-))

  7. Troy says:

    Kobe loves these games, I say 40 points for Kobe Lakers will win.

  8. KDEISEL says:

    ibaka is the only viable shot blocker? really? i might agree with ibaka being the only ineluctable shot-blocker, but as displayed in multiple nba highlights over the past season, with westbrook and durant both being athletic and long enough to block shots, OKC is a very capable shot blocking team. in the same vein OKC’s D as of late has been amped up, so im going to vehemently disagree with the absurd notion that LA is going to be able to shoot with impunity.

    im gonna go with OKC tonight, because of their much deeper bench.

  9. Lakers/Thunder Fan says:

    Shall we all remember, 2 years ago, NBA playoffs, round 1. Lakers vs. Thunder. Lakers win in 5 games. I think it will be an interesting game. They just have to force Kevin Durant to take midrange jumpers. Not 3’s nor layups.

  10. Evad says:

    OKC 102 LAL 96. I waiting to see World Peace go in the stands again. #TradeMarkAttitude LOL

  11. Lakers4Life says:

    Lakers are gonna win. Kobe will hit most of his shots. Pau and Bynum will dominate the post ibaka cant stop them both.
    Session will match up good against Westbrook hes playing great right now he just has to keep scoring Sessions any penetration he does=easy points. Sessions play will determine whether we win or lose the game or not.

  12. Solution says:

    If artest cannot stop durant, than ron must get traded. Oh year Metta you gotta lose some weight buddy.

  13. shink213 says:

    this is the dumbest article ever. It doesnt take a genius to know how teams are going to win…the stars must have good games and role/bench players must be efficient and everyone must play good defense and not turn the ball over. I pretty much just summed up this entire article in about 2 sentences. thanks for the waste of time

  14. DDavidson says:

    the addition of Sessions was a good move but the LAL, but Kobe is taking way too many shots and Pau is not getting enough. The Laker bench is too thin, last time these two met the Lakers were shut down inside and Thunder ran all over them, but that game was in OKC. I think it’ll be close but Fisher’s return will inspire the young Thunder

    105-99 Thunder

  15. The Voice says:

    I don’t know who IKABA is according to the last sentence in the article, but i suspect he might have something to fo with IBAKA! :))

  16. Ben says:

    Lakers have size, but OKC has youth, depth, and quickness. Who can you say on the Lakers bench that will be able to produce like Harden has this season? Durant will have a tough time with Metta, but OKC has so many different threats to where Durant doesn’t have to put up 30+. I do agree about Westbrook, he will need to limit his turnovers. But then again his shooting percentage has been great this year, he just needs to keep it that way. You can see how OKC has progressed over the Lakers these last couple of years. If the Lakers still had Lamar then they would be a better threat to OKC, but it’s not in their favor like it has been in the past. Just to clarify though, not saying the Lakers don’t stand a chance, just saying that they aren’t the favorite this time.

  17. Mike says:

    If Westbrook is willing to share the ball…….. OKC wins. If WB try to shoot as much as Kobe…OKC lose!!!!

  18. Celticsrck says:

    just hope MWP doesnt do anything cheap or dirty to Durant,theres already been a lot of bad injuries this year

  19. lakers6peatdynasty says:

    ball so hard kd tryna fine me..but first he gotta shoot a 6 point fadeaway in my face uncontested wearing a throwback marbury jersey

  20. lilhooper says:

    true…

  21. lakers6peatdynasty says:

    tyson, jackson, BRYANT GAME 7 WOOOOOO LETS GO KOBE AND THE LAKERS 9 PEAT DYNASTY

  22. wUT says:

    Big game defence is a must if the lakers want to win, then again if Okc is hot and shooting lights out and Kobe is cold trouble… I expect to see a playoff like atmosphere, more half court Basketball were every possession counts.

  23. Rogier123 says:

    I think OKC will win this one. Must be strange for a guy like Fisher playing on the other side. Can’t wait!

  24. Hasan Rizvi says:

    lakers win 100 tom 90

  25. lakers says:

    kobe will need to have good games aganist the elite team if lakers could go far in the playoffs

  26. lakers6peatdynasty says:

    kobrandallday

  27. TheProfesor says:

    Hard to beat lakers at staples. Bynum has big games after being benched lakers win.

  28. lakers6peatdynasty says:

    I hope kobe lights up sefolosha aka the proclaimed kobe stopper

  29. lakers says:

    im a big laker fan and for the lakers to win this match they will need to play defence

  30. BelizeBoy says:

    OKC 97 – Lakers 88.

  31. Derek Fisher’s return to the Staples Center as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder is today’s NBA Game of the Day (http://randomnbafan.com/03/29/2012/nba-game-of-the-day-oklahoma-city-thunder-at-los-angeles-lakers/). Fisher will try to help the Thunder to their fifth straight win since his arrival.

    Kobe Bryant and the Lakers are seeking their 21st win at Staples as they open up a four-game home stand.