The last game before the break and this is your present. Or your nightmare. The Oklahoma City Thunder enter tonight’s game with the NBA’s best record. They are fifth in scoring, third in field goal percentage, fifth in rebounds, second in blocks, second in defensive field goal percentage. They have never lost three games in a row. They have had an 8 game winning streak, a 9 game winning streak and a 10 game winning streak. In their last ten games their opponents have scored under 100 points seven times. They are on pace to win 63 games, a franchise record, and return to the NBA Finals.
The Lakers come into tonight’s game with the NBA’s fifth worst record. They are fifteenth in scoring, twentieth in field goal percentage, twentieth in rebounds, sixth in blocks, sixteenth in defensive field goal percentage. They have won three games once. They have had a 7 game losing streak and two 6 game losing streaks. In their last ten games their opponents have scored under 100 points three times. They are on pace to win 28 games, a franchise record for futility, and return to the NBA Draft Lottery for the first time in nine years.
Kevin Durant is the leading candidate to win the MVP trophy. He is the NBA’s leading scorer. He is the leader in PER (Personal Efficiency Rating). He has carried the Thunder since the loss of Russell Westbrook to knee surgery and his assists and rebounds are up and his turnovers are down. The Thunder have the best scouting department in the NBA; they simply know how to evaluate talent. Durant’s young teammates, Reggie Jackson, Steven Adams and Jeremy Lamb are efficient and trustworthy while Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins dominate in the paint. Derek Fisher’s leadership and his continued proficiency in three point shooting rounds out a championship roster.
No one on the Lakers could make the Thunder’s roster. Their best offensive player going into tonight’s game, Chris Kaman, will be guarded by the quicker and more athletic Ibaka, making Kaman’s ability to get his shot off a challenge. Forget guarding Durant. There is no one on the Lakers long enough, strong enough, athletic enough or skilled enough. Reggie Jackson is quicker than Kendall Marshall and a better shooter. No one on the Lakers bench can match Jeremy Lamb’s length; he is an excellent shooter and without any Lakers firepower he won’t have to expend energy guarding anyone. All of this is true. But what no one talks about is the Thunder defense. They are quick to the ball, they rotate, they protect the paint and guard the perimeter. And when all else fails they have Durant to save them who loves playing in L.A. In his last five regular season games here he has had 42 points, 35 points, 21 points, 31 points, 24 points.
The Lakers will do what they usually do. They will try hard. But the Thunder’s offense and defense is too overwhelming. The Lakers only chance to stay in the game is to make 12 or 13 threes. And to hope the Thunder are already thinking All-Star break. Hey, they lost to Orlando a couple of nights ago. Anything is possible.