Lakers-Thunder Game 4 Preview: Rising To The Occasion

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 18: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers grabs a rebound over teammate Andrew Bynum #17 and Serge Ibaka #9 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Three of the Western Conference Semifinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on May at Staples Center on May 18, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 99-96. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Less than 24 hours after proving they can play with the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Los Angeles Lakers will need to do it again. Because of the lockout, a shortened season, and television contracts that must be fulfilled, back-to-back basketball has come to the NBA playoffs. Which is awesome, you know, because if there's one thing this Lakers-Thunder series has had too much of, its basketball players playing at a high level.

In case you didn't pick up on the obvious sarcasm, this Lakers-Thunder series has not been all that well played. The Lakers have struggled from the field in all three playoff contests, and after their opening game mauling, the Thunder have also struggled to put points on the board. Each team's offensive efficiency in game 3 was high, but that was due, on both teams part, to an obscene number of free throws which were converted at an equally obscene rate. Between turnovers, poor shooting, and two teams that seem better suited to each other defensively than offensively, this series has not been a portrait of the beautiful game of basketball.

This is especially true of the Lakers, because the Lakers are a top heavy, star-driven team. And their stars ... have not been very good in this series. Kobe is scoring his 25 points per game, but he's shooting below 40% of the series, struggling to deal with the length of Thabo Sefalosha and Kevin Durant. Andrew Bynum is getting his 18 points per game and picking up 12 boards, but he's shooting even worse from the floor than Kobe is. Both players are getting to the foul line and doing great once they are there, but if Kobe and Drew are the horses the Lakers will be riding to the finish line, they need both guys to pick things up in a hurry. Pau Gasol has been better, but he's taking the same number of shots per game as Metta World Peace, which is not how we should want the offense to run. Speaking of MWP, his defensive energy has been fantastic, but his shooting has not been. And prior to game 3, Ramon Sessions might as well have been on the side of a milk carton, so much had he disappeared from the Lakers offensive plans and performance.

The point is, the Lakers have not played very well at all in this series, and yet they find themselves with an opportunity to tie things up today, and were very close to having the series already be in their favor. A similar analysis on the Thunder would probably produce the same results, with star players that aren't performing to their normal levels and a supporting cast which isn't all that fantastic to begin with. Both teams surely have much more than they've shown so far.

Which means that this game, and this series, will go to the team that rises to the occasion. Both teams are playing hard, and points have been tough to come by, which is what playoff basketball is all about. However, the Thunder were the 2nd best offensive team in the league this season, and though the Lakers were just 10th, they had one of the league's best offenses after Sessions' arrival in Los Angeles at the trade deadline. Neither team is all that strong defensively (OKC 10th, Lakers 13th), so you would expect these teams to be putting a few more points on the board than they currently are. One of these teams is going to rise to the occasion, to play the way we are accustomed to see them play.

If the Lakers are the team to do it, we might just have a series on our hands.

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