The 16-banner Los Angeles Lakers come to Oklahoma City tonight to try and extend their season and get this second-round series back to Hollywood. The young Thunder, with a 3-1 advantage, will push, prod and pounce on the teetering LA squad in an effort to return to the Western Conference Finals for the second year in a row.
Current 3X NBA scoring champ Kevin Durant and his teammates are 30-7 in their building this season and have exhibited more poise and composure than the finger-pointing Lakers at the end of games in this high-profile series. Los Angeles and their worldwide fan base know that tonight’s 48 and accompanying scenario could be reversed very easily if this group performs better down the stretch.
The Purple & Gold were blown out in Game 1 in OKC, 119-90, but their other two defeats in Games 2 and 4 were by two and three points respectively. And in the last game on Saturday at Staples, LA blew a 13-point lead with eight minutes remaining, capped off by a KD tie-breaking 3-pointer with 13 seconds left. 2X All-Star, SoCal native and UCLA product PG Russell Westbrook poured in 37 in the victory.
14X All-Star Kobe Bryant had 38, 8 and 5 in Game 4, but needed help down the stretch from his two All-Star 7-footers. Both Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum have performed decently in this series. However to beat this surging OKC group they’ll have to significantly upgrade their end-of-game focus and production.
Bryant, in a sign of frustration and lonely leadership, has called out Gasol specifically. The Mamba knows that this core Laker group went to the NBA Finals three years in a row and ended up with rings in 2009 and 2010 – so they have the experience and talent to get back there. Granted this year in LaLa land is different in that Phil Jackson and Lamar Odom are gone, and 5X champ Derek Fisher now plays for OKC.
The Denver Nuggets took the Lakers to seven games in the first round, whereas OKC swept the defending champion Mavericks in four. Team fatigue was definitely a factor in the Lakers’ loss in Game 1 of this tilt. The other pair of L’s that have them on the edge of elimination this evening had more to do with crunch-time execution, trust and desire. If they lose Game 5 tonight, this will most probably be the last time this championship Laker group will play together as teammates.
Tune in to TNT at 9:30 PM ET to see if the Lakers can stay alive against the title-hungry Thunder.