For the fourth and final time this regular season, the Los Angeles Lakers take on the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night. The Lakers trail the season series 2-1, but the Lakers won the last meeting between these two Western Conference teams.
Unlike the last meeting, Tuesday’s game is in Oklahoma City in front of some of the more vociferous fans in the NBA (see Dwight Howard’s funny impression of a Thunder fan). Those fans have assisted the Thunder to a 26-4 overall record this season. The Lakers, on the other hand, amble into Chesapeake Energy Arena with a 10-19 road record.
To label the Lakers as heavy underdogs is a fair assessment. Overnight, Las Vegas expected the Lakers to lose by 8.5 points.
Is that advantage simply based on the home court?
Well, along with the unfavorable change of venue, the Lakers are also missing one rather large contributor from the Jan. 27 victory at Staples Center: Pau Gasol.
Gasol was instrumental in that win, and he was Coach Mike D’Antoni’s player of choice down the stretch. The Spaniard scored 16 points on 7-10 shooting in 36 minutes, and his four assists were vital in securing the 105-96 victory.
Gasol is out injured and at least a couple weeks away from returning.
The Lakers have continued their strong play with Gasol watching in a suit, but in all honesty, LA was fortunate in the last round. Russell Westbrook, one of the most explosive guards in the league, had a rotten night at Staples Center.
Whereas Westbrook averaged 30 points per game in the two previous meetings, he shot a dismal 6-22, including 1-5 from three-point land, en route to 17 points in the loss. The Lakers should not count on that happening on Tuesday.
One thing the Lakers should count on is Kevin Durant.
Durant leads the NBA in scoring with nearly 29 points per game, and he has averaged 38 points against the Lakers this season. Simply put, LA has no answer for the guy who would probably get the MVP trophy if LeBron suddenly vanished off the planet.
The Lakers have their work cut out for them, but Kobe Bryant is playing like…well, Kobe Bryant.
The Black Mamba has opted for a new name, “Vino.” The product of the 1996 NBA draft appears to be improving with age, much like a fine wine.
When the Lakers beat the Thunder on Jan. 27, Bryant fell one rebound shy of a triple-double. The “Magic Mamba” has since transformed into the familiar attacking Bryant that Lakers fans have enjoyed watching for nearly 17 seasons.
For the past five games, he averaged 35 points per game, and his 34-point performance against Atlanta was filled with highlights that would be improbable for most 24-year-olds—let alone a 34-year-old.
The defending Western Conference Player of the Month looks to carry his team to victory with yet another super-human performance in Oklahoma City, but the leading scorer in the league promises to offer resistance to the challenge.
Tip-off for the Los Angeles Lakers at the Oklahoma City Thunder is 6:30 p.m. PT.