Can Kobe, Lakers Keep Thunder From Rolling?

It all starts with Kobe Bryant on Russell Westbrook

Tuesday night was the Lakers best game of the year. Easily. They executed their offense, but more importantly they held the explosive Thunder in check on defense.

The Lakers got back in transition and shut off the lane -- the Thunder's parade of layups stopped. It all started with Kobe Bryant matched up on Russell Westbrook -- with their lead speedster slowed, the Thunder offense ground to a halt.

But can the Lakers do it again? On the road in loud Oklahoma City?

Well, sure they can… but when was the last time we saw two good games in a row from these Lakers? Do you really want to bet they'll be consistent now?

Like they did Tuesday night in Los Angeles, the Lakers success in Oklahoma City Friday night will begin with Kobe Bryant.

After the last game, Thunder players admitted it caught them off guard -- Bryant locking down on Westbrook. It threw the young Thunder out of sync; it made Westbrook hesitant. Kobe's quick of foot but more importantly he is taller and stronger than defenders Westbrook is used to seeing. On one play in the third quarter, it was Westbrook on a fast break and Kobe running with him and Kobe took away the lane to the basket, forced Westbrook to go behind the backboard and turn the ball over.

It was worse in the halfcourt, where Westbrook settled for jump shots rather than attacking the rim, where Kobe and behind him ,Andrew Bynum stood in his way. And he settled for them too much -- four of his last five shots of the game were threes. The Lakers will take that. While he hit two of four late in the game, Westbrook on the season is a 22 percent shooter from three. That is what the Lakers want him to do.


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Back home, with the energy of the loud crowd to feed on, you can bet on an aggressive Westbrook. And if he does that he can get by Kobe -- he can get by anyone; he's very good. It will take a Lakers team effort to keep him quiet.

On offense, the Lakers have to keep going inside, getting the ball to Pau Gasol, and not settling for jump shots themselves. The Lakers aren't good at it either.

At this point in a series, there are no secrets. You know what they other team is going to do; they know what you want to do. It becomes about executing, and making tough shots. Oklahoma City will come out with plenty of energy, that much we know.

If the Lakers don't want to be playing in game seven back at Staples Center on Sunday, they have to match that passion. For a second game in a row.

Kurt Helin lives in Los Angeles and is the Blogger-in-Chief of NBC's NBA blog Pro Basketball Talk (which you can also follow in twitter).

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