Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers dribbles the ball against Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder during Game Five of the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs. The Lakers were eliminated in five games.
The short-handed Los Angeles Lakers (9-10 ) take on the white hot Oklahoma City Thunder (15-4) on Friday evening. The Lakers are not expected to win the game --they come in as 7.5-point underdogs, according to the wise guys in Las Vegas.
Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and company put on a terrific display of offensive and defensive execution on Wednesday night in New Orleans, but the Hornets are currently the worst team in the Western Conference.
Unfortunately, the Lakers are not playing the Hornets on Friday night.
Oklahoma City has won nine of its last 10 games. The Lakers only have nine wins on the season. Few people outside the Lakers locker room give Los Angeles much of a chance on Friday. The Lakers are in Oklahoma City, the place where they lost all three games in last season’s playoffs. Including the regular season, the Lakers are on a four-game losing streak in Oklahoma City.
With Pau Gasol and Steve Nash not available, the Lakers will look to Antawn Jamison and Chris Duhon to fill in the gaps. Metta World Peace and Jamison will draw the unenviable task of attempting to slow down Kevin Durant. The “Durantula” is currently second in the league in scoring, at 26.5 points per game. Across the court, the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant currently leads the league in scoring at 28.0 points per game, and Bryant does not look like he is slowing one bit.
After reaching the 30,000-point mark in the first half of Wednesday’s game, Bryant went on to score another 16 points and finished the night with 29 points. If the Lakers expect to compete with the Thunder, Bryant will need score the basketball, and he will need to shoot close to the 49 percent he has been averaging this season.
On the other side of the court, the Lakers also enter Friday’s game confident that they have the best defensive player in the league.
Dwight Howard has slowly inched back to health over the past two months, and he has finally regained his movement and jumping ability. Howard has controlled the paint with nine blocks in his last two games. Entering Friday’s game, Howard has climbed up to fourth in the league in blocks per game. Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka, however, is currently leading the league in that category at 3.26 blocks per game.
With the top two scorers in the league going head to head, and two of the best shot blockers in the NBA set to battle underneath the basket, Friday night should provide plenty of highlights. The Lakers have little to lose, so they have everything to gain. Regardless of the outcome, the Lakers will look to control their defensive boards, limit turnovers, and improve on defensive rotations.
Since the Lakers are down two of their five starters, Friday night is not a measuring stick. However, revenge is on the menu, and the potential for an upset is always a mouthwatering proposition.