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Los Angeles Lakers vs Oklahoma City Thunder Picks
The Los Angeles Lakers are a better team defensively than in recent years, but they are short of being an elite NBA team due to their struggles on the road. The Oklahoma City Thunder, meanwhile, is rolling to the best record in the West mainly on the strength of the league’s best home record. The Lakers’ weakness and the Thunder’s strength will be put to the test Thursday night in the final game before the All-Star break, when the Lakers travel to visit the Thunder in the first of three meetings this year. Here’s a look at tonight’s matchup, plus my possible NBA picks on the game.
Los Angeles Lakers (20-13) @ Oklahoma City Thunder (26-7), 9:30 p.m. ET
The Lakers have been pretty stout on defense most of the season, but they struggle to win games away from home. Los Angeles boasts a 6-11 road record after winning at Dallas last night, which is still one of the worst marks in the NBA. Overall, the Lakers have won five of their last six games and are coming off back-to-back wins over Portland and Dallas. Kobe Bryant continues to lead the league in scoring (29 ppg) and has had strong support from Andrew Bynum (16.3 ppg, 10.8 rpg) and Pau Gasol (16.6 ppg, 10.7 rpg) – despite a lot of rumors about the latter’s imminent departure in a trade. Bynum and Gasol are key to the Laker’s defensive success, as the perimeter is a little weak outside of Bryant. If L.A. can control the paint and slow down the pace, Bryant will have what he needs to carry the team. If the pace picks up, the onus to keep up falls on a bench that has been unproductive, ranking at the bottom in the league in scoring.
Oklahoma City has soared to the West’s best record thanks to a league-best 14-1 home record after a 119-114 win over Boston Wednesday night – its fourth straight win and sixth in seven games. Offense is the key for OKC, as the Thunder rank third in the NBA in scoring (103.2 ppg). The Thunder thrives most in the open court, simply because much of its firepower comes on the perimeter, as the top three scorers (alas, the only three scoring in double figures) are Kevin Durant (27.7 ppg, 8.2 rpg), Russell Westbrook (23.4 ppg, 5.5 apg) and reserve guard James Harden (16.8 ppg, 3.5 apg). Kendrick Perkins and Nazr Mohammed are likely going to have the burden of slowing down Bynum and Gasol inside, but they aren’t big threats to make those two work defensively. The Thunder will have to create turnovers and get out and run in order to mitigate Bynum’s and Gasol’s effectiveness in the paint. If Bynam and Gasol affect the game in any real way, the Thunder will be in trouble.
The NBA odds show the Thunder favored by 6 points, while the total has been set at 195 points. The Thunder has only lost to the Blazers at home and has had great success scoring 100 points or more on its own floor. The Lakers have been good defensively most of the season, but have struggled to win in opposing arenas. Oklahoma City will likely not challenge Bryant defensively, as their focus may be on sagging inside to take away the interior threats in Gasol and Bynum to make the Lakers a jump-shooting team. That will allow for long rebounds, which is where the Thunder thrives – it can run on missed jumpers much easier than on missed layups. OKC, though, have struggled against teams with dominant big men (or at least an emphasized inside game) and the Lakers have one of the best in the league this year. Pace will decide this one. If the Lakers can slow the game and make Gasol and Bynum impactful on the interior, they can come up with an upset due to their defensive discipline. However, the Thunder have been good at forcing turnovers and taking advantage. At home the Thunder is very tough to beat, and while the Lakers present a unique challenge that Oklahoma City hasn’t really seen this year, it will be fired up to play against the Lakers and should make just enough plays to clear 100 points and get the win.
Final Score Prediction: Thunder 102, Lakers 94