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Category: Oklahoma City Thunder

Lakers Roundtable: L.A. Times' Mark Medina and the Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry break down Lakers-Thunder matchup

If the Lakers had it their way, the playoffs would begin already.

There'd be no anxieties over homecourt advantage implications, with the Lakers currently in second place in the West with a two-game lead over Dallas, a one-game edge over Oklahoma City and in a tie with the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics. There'd be no more wondering whether their four-game losing streak comes at exactly the wrong time. And there'd be few charges from Coach Phil Jackson questioning the team's professionalism.

But there are still three games to play and the Lakers at least have to be in attendance. The Lakers' game Sunday at Staples Center against Oklahoma City should have plenty of intrigue, however. Besides the standings implications, the Lakers have never matched up with the Thunder since it acquired Kendrick Perkins. The Lakers believe the Thunder gave them enough of a test in the 2010 playoffs. But the veteran, tested and physical presence that Perkins provided for Boston only elevates OKC's play. Plus there's the whole controversy surrounding Perkins' comments about Pau Gasol being soft, so don't expect another Lakers mail-it-in effort. Or at least we think.

There's plenty to discuss regarding this game, and the Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry shared his time to break it down.

Among the highlights:

--Mayberry says Perkins hasn't spoken about Gasol since making his initial comments to ESPN The Magazine. But Mayberry made it clear Perkins has stood behind his statement.

--Mayberry says the Thunder's two recent victories against Denver should help it when the two teams presumably square off in the first-round.

--Mayberry breaks down a possible Lakers-Thunder playoff series.

--Mayberry believes Kevin Durant will be the team's X factor considering he hasn't shot well at Staples Center against either the Lakers or Clippers.

--You can follow more of Mayberry's work at the Oklahoman's website and on Twitter.

-- Mark Medina

Email the Lakers blog at [email protected]

Caught in the Web: Lakers prepare for Oklahoma City

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--The Times' Broderick Turner explains why the Lakers Coach Phil Jackson is concerned about the team's four-game losing streak.

--The Times' Mark Heisler believes it's hard to get a read on the Lakers.

--The Orange County Register's Janis Carr highlights Jackson's worries about the Lakers' losing streak.

--ESPN Los Angeles' Brian Kamenetzky, Ramona Shelburne and 710 ESPN's Dave Miller debate a few Laker topics.

--ESPN Los Angeles' Arash Markazi explains how the Thunder has become a competitive franchise.

--Pro Basketball Talk's Matt Moore believes there's nothing to worry about the Lakers' recent losing streak.

--The Oklahoman's John Rohde highlights Scott Brooks' support for Thunder forward Kevin Durant winning league MVP since he's on pace to finish first in the NBA in scoring.

--The Daily News' Elliott Teaford looks at how Lakers forward Pau Gasol might match up with Thunder center Kendrick Perkins.

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Poll Question: Would the Lakers be better off as the No. 2 seed?

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It might sound like a stupid question, knowing the Lakers have been fighting for Western Conference supremacy as soon as they saw San Antonio reeling.

It's also not in the Lakers makeup to want to lose games, especially during April when the playoffs near and the team's sharpness and development proves more crucial than during those ho-hum regular season games in mid January.

And even if it is a legitimate question, the Lakers certainly aren't going to concede it, preferring that sports writers avoid this storyline and that they don't want to come across as being disrespectful to the game and to its opponent.

But it's still a topic many are debating even among several corners in this forum with the interests in mind that the Lakers three-peat. Would they be better off allowing San Antonio to take the No. 1 seed in the West and settle for second place? Predictably, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson appeared to find the logic absurd as he finished preparation for Sunday's game against the Denver Nuggets in hopes that they can close the Spurs 1 1/2 game lead for first place. He simply offered coachspeak. "We're playing every game for what it's worth," he said. "Tomorrow is Denver and then we'll move on from there. We want to win every game we can win."

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Rival centers and the Lakers title run

Shaqbynum Anyone looking ahead to a Lakers-Celtics rubber match in June should know that Shaquille O’Neal turned 39 on Sunday.

Yes, Shaq, is the NBA’s oldest player. When Celtics GM Danny Ainge traded Kendrick Perkins to the Thunder he also rolled the dice on Shaq standing up throughout the playoffs.

Granted, there are no back-to-backs scheduled in the playoffs, but it’s still a long slog to a title. Last spring the Lakers needed 23 playoff contests to win it, and they played 23 games in 2009. Other recent title runs: the Celtics’ 26 games in 2008, the Spurs’ 20 in 2007, and the Heat’s 21 in 2006.

Of the eight plausible title contenders, only the Heat lacks a meaningful center. For the other seven teams, most rely on centers who have carry medical concerns.

Let’s start with the Bulls: Joakim Noah, in his fourth season, looked like an All-Star till he went down and missed 30 games for thumb surgery. Last season he sat out 18 games.

Celtics: For the Shamrock’s, Shaq has laced them up for 36 games and missed 25 — and counting — with knee, hip and Achilles woes. This season Shaq’s PR for consecutive games played is 16.

Lakers: Andrew Bynum at 23 is the youngest of this group. He played in all 23 playoff games last spring, though mostly on one leg. He played limited minutes in their 2009 title run, and missed 21 playoff games in 2008.

Magic: Dwight Howard is Superman, missing three games in seven seasons.

Mavericks: Tyson Chandler, 28, has anchored the paint for Dallas and missed but three of their first 57 games. Now, he’s sat out the last two with a sprained right ankle. Chandler knows downtime: missing 31 games for Charlotte last season, and 36 games for New Orleans in 2008-09.

Spurs: Tim Duncan reaches the NBA’s antique threshold when he turns 35 in April. Wise Gregg Popovich has reduced Duncan’s court time to a career-low 29 minutes.

Thunder: Perkins has yet to play for OKC. He missed 43 games for Boston after reconstructive right knee surgery, then played 12 games and averaged 8.1 boards, bruised his left knee two weeks ago and was traded.

My wager is the last team standing in June is the one with a starting center still able to power up and down the court on two healthy legs.

--Barry Stavro

Photo: Shaquille O’Neal fouls Andrew Bynum in the Lakers-Celtics game at Staples Center in January. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

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.

The Times' Mike Bresnahan and Mark Medina tackle some Laker questions

The Lakers are officially underway. They're finally playing basketball, providing glimpses of how the roster might shape up and giving the fans of the L.A. Times' Lakers blog something to keep them from going insane (or so I hope).

But this is one game. As much as I detailed five things to take away from the Lakers' 111-92 loss Monday to the Minnesota Timberwolves, it's one exhibition game. I don't want to say my post was a waste of time to read and write, but you have to take it for what it is. The Lakers have seven remaining pre-season games and the ring ceremony/opening night isn't until Oct. 26 against Houston.

That leaves time for The Times' Mike Bresnahan and myself to dive into a few questions after the jump.

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