Game Preview: Los Angeles Lakers at Oklahoma City Thunder 12/07/12

The Lakers travel to Oklahoma City to face the Thunder in the final game of this three-game road trip. It's a return to the battlefield that left the Lakers bloody and battered in the second round.

Casting Call

Los Angeles Lakers (9-10, 101.1 ppg, 96.9 ppg allowed)

Oklahoma City Thunder (15-4, 105.7 ppg, 96.1 ppg allowed)

Showtime

6:30 pm PST

Plot

Friday night the Los Angeles Lakers face their biggest challenge of the season thus far: the Oklahoma City Thunder. After being bludgeoned to a playoff death by the Thunder last season, the Lakers shifted gears. This young team dominated the Lakers and sent them reeling to the tune of their second straight second round playoff exit.

Back to back champions turned to back to back second round fodder, left to bleed on the battlefield. The Lakers front office did the unthinkable, though; Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss brought the dying corpse of the Lakers back to life. They sewed the open wounds and stopped the bleeding from two disappointing playoff exits, and recreated the vision of the Los Angeles Lakers. Dwight Howard and Steve Nash were brought in to add not only elite talent, but also an injection of energy and a change of philosophy, and what has come since? A 9-10 record, an injured old man point guard, and a new head coach who has yet to have the chance to play his ultimate weapon. The ace up his sleeve still sidelined.

The Lakers aren't the only team that made changes, however, as the Thunder had perhaps the biggest shock of the summer when they sent James Harden to the Houston Rockets for a package centered around Kevin Martin and draft picks. After being defeated by the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals the Thunder had a difficult decision to make regarding Mr. Beard and wound up moving on, sending one of their family members to a distant land to create what is known as Beardsanity. Martin has been shooting hot fire for the Thunder upon joining a contender after years of floundering with the Rockets. Shooting 47.7% from beyond the arc in 4.6 attempts per game is incredible and puts him in the top 10 in the league from deep. He's a problem.

What else is both incredible and a problem? Kevin Durant, but we all already knew that. Durant is having one of those kind of years. Shooting 51.4% from the field, 45.5%(!) from deep, and 90.3% from the free throw line the man is having his way with opposing defenses. He's getting to the line 8.7 times per game, second only behind Dwight Howard. Another category Kevin Durant, Sir Humblelot, is behind a Laker in? Points per game; chasing Kobe Bryant's 28 points per game with his 26.5.

The Thunder will score against the Lakers. They lead the league in: points per game at 105.7, three point percentage at 42.1%, total free throws made (438 on the season), and free throw percentage at 83.7%. Their field goal percentage as a team is second in the league at 49.2% from the field. All of these numbers makes the following a non-surprise, but four of their players are in the top 10 in true shooting percentage: Kevin Martin, Kevin Durant, Thabo Sefolosha, and Serge Ibaka.

This will push the Lakers defensive capabilities to extremes. Despite being in the top 10 in defensive efficiency the Lakers still have terrible stretches of defense. In order to have a chance in Chesapeake Energy Arena they will have to dig deep and find the discipline to contain the Thunder in the low 40 point range per half. After allowing 47 points in the first half to the Hornets -- a team lacking the kind of talent the Thunder have -- the screws will have to be tightened to have a ghost of a chance without two of their five starters. Even with Pau Gasol and Steve Nash healthy the Thunder would be a challenge to face, but without them? Yeesh.

Dwight Howard pressed the issue of defense Wednesday night against the Hornets, then proceeded to lead by example. The result was the Hornets scoring only 39 points in the second half. The Thunder aren't the Hornets, though. Two of their top three players aren't injured. They're defending the Western Conference title. They have two of the brightest stars in the NBA. And they're brandishing a shiny, deserved, 15-4 record.

The Lakers defense will only be able to withstand the pressure the Thunder will apply for so long. This is where defense and offense must unite. This is why, while defense certainly "wins championships", it's still crucial to be able to put points on the board. At some point the Lakers will simply have to take their lumps on defense and then turn around and swing right back.

In a prime time ESPN slot all eyes will be on the two teams in the first time they've met since both tweaked their personnel. Without Steve Nash and Pau Gasol the Lakers will be far from full strength, but a win against a great team in the Thunder would build confidence for a team that has yet to have a statement win against an elite team. The Lakers lack two of their key players, so a loss wouldn't be soul crushing or overly telling. But a win? A win would be huge. All to gain and nothing to lose Friday night for the Lakers. They've had a few big games, but not against the class of the National Basketball Association. This is a tux and bow-tie event for the Lakers. No matter the attire the Lakers wear though on this Friday night, the scars of the playoffs are still there beneath it all. A reminder of how mortal they were, and can be. Time to dance on the grave they dug out of.

On This Soundtrack

Pain of Salvation - To The End

(Sorrow turned into hate. Anger became a thread, to climb with faith. Tasting the life she shed)

"Time will heal" they told him - just if they knew his pain.
"Time kills!" he whispered.
Not a word: they watched him leave again.
Grief need not her grave - nothing left to save.
She went up with the sunrise that day, planned her future as every day.
Spent her last minutes in tomorrows she would never experience.

Live your life each day, meet the tides my friend.
We're all nomads forever on our way: a journey to the end!
(She walked there every day without even knowing it was the place to which she was going)
If you knew the number of the steps you would ever take, bitter I wonder: would you run or cease to walk?
For her sake he lived - nothing more to give.
Looking back now, he could have saved her but there's no one left to save him.
'Cause we're all walking in tomorrows we may never experience.

Live your life each day, meet the tides my friend.
We're all nomads forever on our way: a journey to the end!

So now he has knowledge but what has he won?
All pages are empty - he's already gone.
He lost what he lived for and losses won't mend:
Alive just to enter a journey beyond the end.

- Drew

- Follow this author on Twitter @BallReasons

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