Here we go again. Round two between one of the best teams in the Western Conference and one of the biggest disappointments. Yes, the Thunder-Lakers matchup has lost quite a bit of its preseason shine, but this game could still be a doozy of a high scoring struggle.
No Defense Leads to Big Problems
The Los Angeles defense has been much maligned, and deservedly so. It gives up 101.7 points per game and allows an effective field goal percentage (eFG%) of .497. Mike D’Antoni might not care a whole lot about defense, but those numbers should scare him against Oklahoma City.
The Thunder has eight losses this season. Every single one of those defeats came against a team allowing 97.3 points per game or fewer. As the league average for points allowed per contest is 97.6, Oklahoma City has yet to lose a game to a team with a below average scoring defense, let alone a bad one. The Nets are the only team to beat the Thunder that is currently allowing a higher opponent eFG% than the Lakers. If Los Angeles wants to win, it is either going to have to reverse its own trend of allowing the opposition to score at will, or it is going to have to reverse Oklahoma City’s trend of savaging every below average defense it encounters.
Free Throw Fest
If you like to watch free throws – a lot of free throws – then this game is for you. Both the Thunder and Lakers are adept at getting to the line. The Thunder have the best free throw-to-field goal attempt ratio in the NBA at .293 and have attempted the second most overall free throws. The Lakers have attempted the most free throws and have the second best FT/FGA mark of .245 (on a side note, it is really amazing at how much farther ahead of second best team the Thunder are at getting to the charity stripe and sinking the freebies).
The Lakers lose Dwight Howard’s 10 free throw attempts per game, although given that he only made 5.1 of those I’m sure they will find a way to cope. As Durant, Kobe and Westbrook rank third, fourth and fifth in free throw attempts respectively, there will still be plenty of opportunities for this game to be won and lost at the line.
Oklahoma City is 22-0 when it scores more than 100 points. Los Angeles has not held a foe to fewer than 100 points since its last win on December 28. You will have to tune in tonight to see if those trends continue.