Lakers Host Thunder in Key Western Conference Tilt

Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Lakers
Staples Center – Los Angeles, California
Sunday, April 22, 2012, 3:30 pm Eastern, TV: ABC
Opening Line: OKC -1
Current Line: OKC -1
Opening Total: 200
Current Total: 200
Opening Money Line: Thunder -120 / Lakers +100
Current Money Line: Thunder -120 / Lakers +100

The Lakers host the Thunder Sunday in a game with massive playoff implications for both teams. The Thunder are a slight road favorite.

The 46-17, Oklahoma City Thunder are a half game behind San Antonio for the #1 seed in the West. Both teams trail Chicago for the best record in the league.  Oklahoma City has gone 6-2 in the last 8 with the only losses coming to the LA Clippers. The Thunder, coached by Scott Brooks, have won 2 straight and 3 of the last 4 on a five game road trip that concludes Sunday at the Staples Center other tenant the Los Angeles Lakers. Oklahoma City won at Sacramento 103-92 Friday night.

The Lakers, coached by Mike Brown, are 40-24 and lead the Clippers by a half game for the Pacific Division and the #3 seed in the West. Memphis can pass both teams for the #3 seed as they trail the Lakers by only a game. The Lakers have gone 5-2 in their last 7 games, but both losses were blowout losses to San Antonio. Kobe Bryant returned to the Laker line-up Friday after missing 8 games with a shin injury. It didn’t help as the Spurs rolled the Lakers 121-97 in San Antonio.

Oklahoma City is 2-0 against the Lakers this season with 2 convincing victories. The Thunder won 100-85 in OKC February 23, and 102-93 in LA March 29. Oklahoma City hasn’t swept the Lakers in the season series since the franchise relocated from Seattle several years ago. The then-Seattle Supersonics swept the Lakers in the 2001-02 season taking all four meetings.

The Thunder are outscoring opponents 103-96 this season. OKC is #3 in scoring in the league. The Thunder are shooting 47.3% from the field and 35.3% from 3 point range. Oklahoma City is #3 in field goal percentage in the NBA and #12 in 3 point percentage. The Thunder lead the league in free throw percentage making 80.3% at the stripe. OKC is #6 in rebounding averaging 43.6 a game with a rebounding margin of +2.5 a game. The Thunder average 18.4 assists, 16.4 turnovers, 7.6 steals, and 8.1 blocks a game. OKC opponents are shooting 42.6% from the field and 32.3% from 3 point range. The Thunder are in the top ten in both categories. Oklahoma City forces 14.3 turnovers a game.

OKC forward Kevin Durant averages 27.8 points, 8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.2 blocks a game. Durant is second in the league in scoring behind Kobe Bryant by a tenth of a point, and leads the Thunder in rebounding. Kobe and KD are locked in an epic battle for the scoring title along with Lebron who averaging 27.1 points a game. Point guard Russell Westbrook averages 23.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 1.7 steals a game. He leads the team in assists and steals. James Harden averages 16.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 3.7 assists a game. Serge Ibaka averages 9 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 3.6 blocks a game to lead the NBA. Guard Eric Maynor is out for the season with a knee injury.

The Lakers are outscoring opponents 97-96 this season. LA is shooting 45.8% from the field and 32.3% from 3 point range. The Lakers are #7 in field goal percentage. LA makes 75.8% of their free throws. The Lakers are #2 in rebounding averaging 46 a game with a rebounding margin of +5.3. Los Angeles averages 22.4 assists, 15.1 turnovers, 5.8 steals, and 5.3 blocks a game. Laker opponents are shooting 43.7% from the field and 33.7% from 3 point range. The Lakers are in the top 13 in both categories. LA forces 11.3 turnovers a game.

Guard Kobe Bryant leads the league in scoring averaging 27.9 points, along with 5.4 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 1.2 steals a game to lead the team. Center Andrew Bynum averages 18.9 points, 11.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 1.9 blocks a game. He leads the Lakers in rebounds and blocks. Bynum is #3 in rebounding in the NBA. Forward Pau Gasol averages 17.3 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.4 blocks a game. He is #7 in rebounding in the league. Newly acquired point guard Ramon Sessions (traded from Cleveland last month) averages 12.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 6.4 assists to lead the team. Matt Barnes, Metta World Peace, and Steve Blake also get significant minutes. Guard Christian Eyenga is out indefinitely with a toe injury.

LA is 27-37 ATS and the total is 35-28-1 this season. OKC is 35-28 ATS and the total is 29-34 this season. Five of the last six in this series have gone under the total. The Thunder are 4-0 ATS in Sunday games, 8-2 against Pacific division teams, 14-5 as a favorite of 4.5 points or less, 41-19-1 as a road favorite of 4.5 points or less, and 1-5 against teams with winning records. The Lakers are 4-1 ATS after a straight loss of 10 points or more, 7-2 as an underdog of 4.5 points or less, 6-14 against Western Conference foes, 6-15 overall, 3-8 after failing to cover, 1-4 after a straight up loss, in Sunday games, and against Northwest Division teams, 3-13 on one day rest, 2-11 at home, and 1-8 after allowing 100 points or more.

I am not sure the Lakers care as much about being the #3 seed as people think. Lakers Center Bynum mentioned that subject. “If we want to keep the third spot we have to win. If not, then we will be fourth,” Bynum said. “The way playoff basketball is with a seven-game series, it doesn’t matter where we are. We play the same.” I think he is right, because if you are the #3 seed you most likely get a date with the defending champion Dallas Mavericks, and if you are the #4 seed then you get the dangerous Memphis Grizzlies. You might as well pick your poison. However, for the young Thunder, they would love to get the #1 seed in the West just for the confidence it would give them. Because of these reasons, I think the Thunder take a close hard fought road victory. It will help erase the taste of their last trip to the Staples Center, an ugly 92-77 blowout loss to the Clippers last Monday night.

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