USA TODAY Sports
The Lakers begin their two-game road trip in Oklahoma City as they take on the Thunder. A win tonight would be huge for the purple and gold as they continue their playoff chase.
6:30 p.m. PST
The Los Angeles Lakers hit the road for a two-game trip that begins Tuesday night when they visit the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Lakers playoff pursuit has only gotten hotter after an exciting win over the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday which was sweetened by the Utah Jazz losing Monday to the Milwaukee Bucks in overtime. Now, Los Angeles is only two games back, and are in a game that could be labeled as "low-risk, high-reward".
Low-risk because this is a game that the Lakers could lost and it would be just that: a loss to the second seeded Thunder. Losses to teams like the Toronto Raptors and Phoenix Suns were, and still are, unacceptable and disastrous to the purple and gold cause. High-reward because the Lakers are now playing with house money. A win here would be not only be a statement victory after their recent stretch of success, but a distinct uptick in their playoff odds.
When the teams last met on January 27th in Los Angeles the Lakers walked away victorious. Most surprising in that game was that somehow they won a game against the Thunder while Howard played only 29 minutes as he logged eight points and 10 rebounds. This was in the midst of the "Pass Mamba" storm, and Kobe Bryant finished the night with 21 points and 14 assists. Since the All-Star break Kobe is averaging 6 assists per game, with his highest assists tally being nine during that stretch.
The Thunder head into the game with the number one offense in the league; a 112.8 offensive rating. Keeping their efficiency up is their astounding ability to not only get to the free-throw line (ranked first in the league), but their league leading 83.1 percent once at the charity stripe. So, yes, it will be fully expected that both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook barrel into the paint and try to force Howard into foul trouble again (Howard had five fouls in the prior contest).
Speaking of Durant, in their last contest he had 35 points on 10-for-26 shooting. Westbrook also struggled from the field, going only 6-of-22 while scoring 17 points (though he also had 13 assists). Can the Lakers bank on the duo to shoot only 33.3 percent from the field again? Over the last ten games Westbrook has been on a tear. In that last ten window he has led the Thunder in scoring with 27.3 points per game, while pushing his percentages to absurd clips. From the field Westbrook is shooting 51.4 percent, and from the three-point line he's up to 51.9 percent, both well above his averages on the season. In the Thunder's most recent game he dropped 29 points and 10 assists on the Los Angeles Clippers.
Serge Ibaka will not be suspended for tonight's game after punching Blake Griffin in his testicles (I spent a good five minutes deciding which word to use here. So many choices! If you haven't seen the video, here it is). Griffin may want to get into his Kia Optima and go back just a few days to change the outcome of that little altercation.
With the Lakers in their final stretch of the season each game has taken on more meaning, which in turn has created a level of excitement in each game. Sunday with the Hawks was as exciting an early March game against Atlanta as can be remembered, and a victory tonight would be even sweeter. Double down on 11, Lakers, you're playing with house money tonight and the payoff could be huge. Come on, blackjack.
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