For the OKC Thunder perspective on the game, check out Matt Keith's Thunder preview as well.
In what Bill Simmons is calling desperation Sunday in the NBA, the Los Angeles Lakers will take on the Oklahoma City Thunder in hopes of not only putting their grievances behind them, but to prove to the world they can hang with, and beat, NBA supremacy. After a players’ only meeting following their loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard allegedly vented their frustrations to each other and the rest of the team. In their next game against Utah, Kobe proceeded to take a season-low ten shots and dish out a season-high 14 assists to notch a 102-84 victory.
Whether or not Kobe’s excessive shooting was the topic of discussion, the Lakers seemed to play their most cohesive, and mistake-free game of the year in their win against the Jazz. L.A. will need to escalate their play even more to beat the dangerous duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
But perhaps asking the Lakers to contain two of basketball’s best is a tall order; rather, they should focus on neutralizing the supporting cast, especially Kevin Martin, while making sure to own the paint against the Thunder.
The Play of Kevin Martin
Who knew that 44 games in the NBA season, Kevin Martin and James Harden would have similar efficiency ratings? After being heavily criticized for swapping Harden for Kevin Martin before the 2012 season, Thunder GM Sam Presti is starting to reap the benefits. With an 8.0 nERD rating on the year (Harden at 8.3), Kevin Martin is the 15th most efficient player in basketball, getting it done on the offensive and defensive side of the ball.
The eighth-year man out of Western Carolina has the 10th best offensive rating in the league, while posting the NBA’s best free throw percentage and eighth-best 3-point percentage. More importantly, Kevin Martin plays extremely well off the ball - enabling the Thunder’s two best players, Westbrook and Durant, to control the bulk of the ball handling for the Thunder. And by the way, did we mention that OKC has the best record in basketball at 34-10?
Westbrook and Durant will surely get their production, but the Lakers cannot let the rest of the Thunder squad go off tonight. If L.A. can limit Martin offensively, especially from the three-point line, then they can keep the Thunder runs in check and attempt to win the battle on the interior.
Lakers in the Paint
For the Lakers to have any chance to win tonight, they’ll have to win the game in the paint. The Lakers have the reputation of playing fast on the year, but against the Thunder, that formula will ultimately prove to get the Lakers run out of the gym. That means Dwight Howard needs to regain his old MVP form tonight.
Dwight is the active leader in the NBA in career total rebound percentage and second in effective field goal percentage. However in 2012-2013, those totals have dipped to ninth and sixth in the NBA, respectively. If Dwight can dominate the post tonight against Kendrick Perkins, and get his customary 10+ free throws, then the Lakers can pull the upset. Lastly, as a team, L.A. will have to get to the charity stripe more frequently than OKC in an attempt to slow the game down and keep OKC off the fast break.