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Things to watch in Lakers-Oklahoma City matchup

588403631. Will the Lakers respond in appropriate fashion?

It's easy to presume that following an effortless loss against the Clippers, the Lakers (30-12) would respond in convincing fashion Monday at Staples Center against the Oklahoma City Thunder (27-13). They felt frustrated after losing to a sub-.500 opponent, although the Clippers have been over .500 the last 10 games. They play a likely playoff contender in OKC that tested them in the first round of the 2010 NBA playoffs. And the tougher portion of the Lakers' schedule now officially begins, including matchups against Dallas, Denver, Utah and Boston in the next two weeks.

But one only has to see that the Lakers responded to a double-digit loss Dec. 22 to Milwaukee with another clunker on Christmas Day against Miami. Interestingly enough, the Lakers' poor performance came after a 6-1 trip that spoke more about the team's inferior competition than any solid habits. To some degree, the Lakers' seven-game winning streak proved a tad misleading because the team's effort against New Orleans and New York only represented true measures on where they stand with the league's contending teams. With how the Lakers appeared woefully unprepared against Miami and San Antonio last month, it's hard to say where the Lakers measure up.

That doesn't mean the Lakers won't prove otherwise. There's just no reason to predict what the Lakers might do because, for better or worse, the only consistent pattern they've painted thus far is how inconsistent they are.

2. How will Ron Artest match up with Kevin Durant? 

Artest may not know it, but this game is a true measuring stick for him. He slimmed down to 250 pounds specifically with Durant in mind because of his belief that he couldn't keep up with Durant's quickness in the first round of the 2010 playoffs, though Durant averaged 25 points on 35% shooting in the series, a clear drop from his 30.1 points a game average on 47.6% shooting in the regular season.

Durant remains the league's leading scorer with 28.5 points, and Artest recently demonstrated in the Lakers' 99-92 loss Sunday to the Clippers that he didn't have the speed and footwork to keep up with guard Eric Gordon, who scored 30 points on 13-of-20 shooting.

It's conceivable that the Lakers might see the Thunder in the postseason again, so it's necessary to for Artest to use this matchup as a barometer on where he stands in his hope to strike a balance between playing physical and agile.

"Kevin Durant and all these guys are getting better. We're getting older, but they're getting better and older," Artest said Oct. 9 in training camp. "I didn't want to be 260, 270 [pounds] when I have to go up against the All-Stars."

3. Can the Lakers hold off the Thunder in transition?

Containing OKC was a concept the Lakers forever struggled with during the first-round matchup and it's an area the Clippers easily exploited with 21 fast-break points. The Lakers simply don't have the personnel to keep up with youthful teams, such as the Clippers and Thunder, with the OKC featuring Russell Westbrook (12th in scoring at 22.6 points a game), Serge Ibaka (averaging 26.1 minutes, 9.8 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in only his second season), Jeff Green and James Harden. A recipe for the Lakers to limit such possibilities points to their shot selection and rebounding. The Lakers' three-of-20 mark from three-point range (15%) and their 50-45 rebounding deficit largely led to the Clippers cashing in on the open floor. Playing at a more deliberate and disciplined pace can prevent the Thunder from doing the same thing.

4. Will the Lakers exploit OKC's dropoff on defense?

Lakers Coach Phil Jackson contended nothing's changed about the Thunder since they met last year in the playoffs. But The Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry explains in great detail how Ron Adams' departure to Chicago has largely contributed to the team's regression in opponent points, opponent field-goal percentage, opponent 3-point field-goal percentage, blocked shots, opponent turnovers and defensive efficiency. That doesn't mean, however, the Lakers will suddenly face little resistance. In fact, the Thunder has indicated it plans to hand out 18 hard fouls against the Lakers to intimidate them from going inside and to force teams to cash in at the free-throw line. The Lakers didn't struggle from the stripe against the Clippers, but Pau Gasol has been the frontline's only reliably free throw shooter (82%), while Andrew Bynum (60%) and Lamar Odom (65%) have fared poorly.

Considering the Thunder, like most teams, don't have the size to counter the Lakers' front line, it's a much more valuable consolation to make them win at the free-throw line than in the paint. After all, Gasol (69.5%), Odom (73.2%) and Bynum (75.8%) are pretty much unstoppable at shots close to the rim, according to HoopData.com. It could also prove to be an effective strategy, considering Gasol lately has shied away from physical play. It's misleading to continue the cliche that Gasol's soft (he's not), but he has lacked aggression and has remained passive when the team's crispness on offense has waned. It's led him to cut corners on defense and in overall effort, an area the Thunder could exploit even more if the Lakers don't handle the hard fouls well and convert at the free-throw line.

--Mark Medina

Twitter.com/latmedina

E-mail the Lakers blog at [email protected]

Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant drives to the basket against Thunder forward Jeff Green, left, and Nenad Krstic in Game 2 of the Western Conference playoffs. Credit: Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times.

 
Comments () | Archives (28)

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888,

looks like you caught me!!!!

I'm glad Fish is you're starting POINT GUARD. Just Sayin...

Go HEAT

47 & 14 in 37 min.

Blake Griffin is a beast and the most exciting player in the league.

He's look so much better in purple and gold.

Yellofever,

I'm still here posting once in a while, I just can't do two things at the same time. I'm reading but prefer not to join any debate.
No post, no response and no enemy.
That's what the advice of the three wise monkeys.
Just focus on the bananas.

@Lew - Nice post about DFish. But who cares what Kobe or Phil thinks right. What was your selection today?


@Edwin - Very funny. Use still got it :-)


@fever - I enjoyed your "recruitment" post also...lol.


I CAN SEE BLAKE "DA BEAST" GOING TO HOUSTIN THIS SUMMER TO WORK ON HIS LOW POST GAME. THE ONLY QUESTION IS; WHAT STUPID THING IS DON STERLING GOING TO DO TO LOSE THIS GUY. ALWAYS DOES, ALWAYS WILL

Kobe saying the Lakers got punked by Blake Griffin is just him trying to fire up LO and Pau. The truth of the matter is Blake is avg 22/13 so if the Lakers can hold him to 18/15 I would be happy with that everyday. Uh in case you didn’t check Blake had 47pts today, the highest point total in the league this season. He’s a very tough cover one on one.


Blake is avg 17/13 and shooting 35% in two games vs. the Lakers. While Gordon is avg 27pts on 62% shooting. I would say EG is doing more of the punking. I’m sure if this was the playoffs Kobe would take Gordon instead of Ron where quickness is needed more than bulk.

Repost:

@LEW
EXCELLENT post at 3:56!!!

I would love to see that interview will Kobe waxing eloquent about his 5 time back court partner.

I get frustrated with Fish, just like others, but I do respect what he's brought to this team and haven't seen anyone come in here and play so well that the unseat the Fish.

He will shut the mouths of all the doubters come playoff time.

He will be clutch in those moments when others are too scared to step into the moment.

He is D. Fish, and he is a CHAMPION!


It is high time they should be playing a brand of MEAN AND THUGGISH basketball if they are to have any hope of repeating.

In the NBA you don't win with just skill, you win with THUGZBALL, it's been proven over and over again.

Lose the GIRLY act and MEN UP and play with an attitude Lakers!
Posted by: Psycorp | January 17, 2011 at 02:48 PM
----------------------
Psycorp - Could you explain what you mean by "Thugzball"?When I think of that term I think of James Posey or KMart dirty fouls, or Laimbeer and Mahorn. By that definition the Lakers didn't win back to back championships by playing "thugzball". Now if you're saying they need to be more physical, I agree. If you're saying they need to give more hard fouls in protecting the basket, I'm with you there also.

"INTERESTING OBSERVATION BY MARK MEDINA"

How in the world can you have a post on "Things to watch in Lakers v OKC matchup" and not have Derek Fisher against Westbrook as the #1 item?

Either you have no idea what you're analyzing or you are on Fisher's payroll.

Utah, and Dallas has uncharacteristic losses against Washington and Detroit, respectively. If L..A. can beat OKC, it creates some breathing space between the Spurs and Lakers and every other team. And, with games against a struggling Mavs squad and Utah, a winning streak can create more distance before the All-Star break.

MM, While I agree the Artest on Durant matchup will be dynamic, and the most magnified of the individuals, it will be an indicment on Team D if Durant explodes, not just necessarily Ron, individually, it takes the whole team defense to help on KD.

This is an interesting game beacuse these two teams had a competetive playoff series last year. That means that, for both teams, their game plans against each other should be more fully developed than it is for most regular season games.


Of course, the Lakers have not been executing game plans, or much of anything. To me it has been more a matter of FOCUS than EFFORT. They just kind of go out and play. Only 12 assists against the Clips - a clear sign they weren't RUNNING anything.


But at least they should have a good game plan in THEORY, which can provide some amusement if they just come down and shoot and turn the ball over and let the Thunder run.


They had horrible spacing in the offense yesterday - the wing guy and the corner guy both so close to the the post that their defensders could easily double the post and get back in time. Therefore no post game. Therefore no ball movement. Therefore no assists.


Most of Bynum's points came on cuts to the hoop and putbacks, and Pau's were on face up shots. Almost no back-to-the-basket low post, inside-out stuff. It is lack of attention to detail more than failure to hustle that has plagued these guys on offense. On defense it is a bit of everything.

How in the world can you have a post on "Things to watch in Lakers v OKC matchup" and not have Derek Fisher against Westbrook as the #1 item?

Posted by: pfunk36 | January 17, 2011 at 04:32 PM

Kobe will happily guard Westbrook.

Fish will gladly guard Thabo.

Good trade off.

Does anyone know where Kenny 'the jet' Smith is...Did he get fired and CWebb took his job...or is this a temporary situation...

Mark Medina,

You have defended Fisher's terrible defense and inconsistent shooting long enough. Fisher is a huge problem. Veteran "headiness" and media savvy doesn't compensate for slowness afoot and poor shooting.

Face reality, Fisher is a problem. Lakers lack fast break points too. Fisher slowness again. Phil hasn't given anyone else a chance at PG. Farmar, Sasha nor Shannon Brown -- all in my opinion better options for 30 minutes per game. Blake's claim to fame is he tore up Fisher last year when he was a Clipper. But who doesn't?

Its time for you to be realistic. Fisher is a liability that the Lakers are finding more difficult to overcome.

Posted by: Tom Daniels | January 17, 2011 at 04:37 PM

--

Excellent post Tom...definitely RCOTD material...

Todd - I included this as part of my post-game report last night: "On the other hand, Fisher's one of eight mark continued a poor stretch where he's gone three of 18 in the past three games. I've staunchly defended Fisher even during bad performances, arguing how it's necessary to weigh his locker room clout and ability to turn it on come playoff time. But his game against the Clippers were too much. Too many of his shots were rushed, contested and otherwise out of the context of the offense, traits that surely don't set a good example for the rest of the team.."

Where am I covering up or defending him?

sean,

Let's see.........You want Kobe to score, create offense for the bigs, close the game............AND guard Westbrook. If Kobe does all of that what is Fisher doing? Why is he even on the team?

Must Kobe bear the cross alone.............and the whole team go free?

@LRob - this is all I got today...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=133BYqkL72E

pfunk - What if PJ does replace Fish with Blake as the starter, and Blake is just as bad or is even worse...

Who would the whipping post be...Pau, AB, LO, Ron or maybe Barnes for getting injured...

How about blaming Kobe...or Kobe can do no wrong...

"sean,

Let's see.........You want Kobe to score, create offense for the bigs, close the game............AND guard Westbrook. If Kobe does all of that what is Fisher doing? Why is he even on the team?

Must Kobe bear the cross alone.............and the whole team go free?

Posted by: pfunk36 | January 17, 2011 at 05:40 PM "

hahahahaha

Less than 2 hours till game time.. I'd say westbrook is starting to salivate a little bit right about now... In another hour he should be foaming at the mouth

@edwin.. Good to know u'll be here in spirit!

Is Westbrook and Durant taking a shower 1 hour before game time...eew

@Lew - How appropriate. I love it.

Phil needs to play Ebanks and Character more and stop playing Lukes sorry slow footed no playing @ss! Luke is again crippling the development of our young talent. Luke presents to me one of the biggest blunders in Laker history! Mitch should be flogged for signing this clown, and Phil should be declared insane for playing him. IJS!

I m away from LA. It's refreshing to see the Lakers from the outside looking in.
They are no longer an elite team. Just another good NBA squad.

Really enjoying your impressions and your telling of them.
You have alot to say and say it well . Chatty Cathy's unite.

Somebody wanted to do an interview to ask Kobe what he thinks about Fish? yeah right, he's going to tell 100% the truth and nothing but the truth exactly on his mind: "Yeah I know my good buddy and teammate Fish really sucks! Can't defend, can't shoot and can't do any PG things like a traditional PG should be doing..." Dream on!

As for Steve Blake. Well before you are prepare to blame him if things don't improve should he start FIRST let him start and give him a chance to fail first...

Last but not least, wasn't Blake only a bench player on his last team? it's not like the Lakers have an All-Star PG on the bench backing up Fish.

My bet is still on Blake to be a BETTER starting PG than Fish. No matter how great Fish USED to be his time is past. He is DONE. Like the Janet Jackson song "What Have You Done for Me Lately?" -put a fork in Fish and stick him to the bench already...


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