Thunder at Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers finally squeezed out a win on Friday to snap a four-game slide. If they want to make it back-to-back triumphs, the host Lakers will have to figure out a way around the NBA-best Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday. Los Angeles found a formula against the Utah Jazz on Friday with Kobe Bryant acting mainly as a distributor on offense while the team played strong defense.
The Thunder are making the final stop of a six-game road trip and have taken three of the first five after easily dispatching the Sacramento Kings on Friday. Oklahoma City is the top scoring team in the NBA and will test Los Angeles’ new-found defense with two of the best scorers in the league in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The Lakers have won their last five games when allowing less than 95 points.
TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
ABOUT THE THUNDER (34-10): Oklahoma City has shown signs of fatigue on the current trip but had a day off on Saturday to rest up for the Lakers. The Thunder squandered a late lead in a loss at Golden State on Wednesday and got off to a sluggish start at Sacramento on Friday before busting out and pushing the lead to as much as 25 points in the third quarter en route to a 105-95 triumph. Sunday marks the end of a stretch of 11 of 13 games on the road for Oklahoma City, which included a 116-101 victory over the Lakers at Staples Center on Jan. 11. Durant went for 42 points and Westbrook added 27 and 10 assists as the Thunder shot 50.6 percent in the easy victory.
ABOUT THE LAKERS (18-25): For all the talk of Los Angeles’ issues on offense, the team ranks among the top scoring teams in the NBA at an average of 102.3 points. The overlooked problem has been on the defensive end, where the Lakers rank in the bottom five in points allowed. They made a much stronger effort on that end against Utah on Friday, holding the Jazz to 37 points in the first half. Bryant handed out a season-high 14 assists while matching a season low with only 10 field goal attempts in the 102-84 victory. Los Angeles held a team meeting before a loss to Memphis on Wednesday to air some grievances and looked like a more cohesive unit on Friday. The Lakers are still seven games below .500 but will face four straight teams with losing records after the Thunder exit Staples Center.
1. Oklahoma City has taken each of the first two meetings this season and have won four straight and eight of the last 10 in the series.
2. Los Angeles coach Mike D’Antoni was reportedly given a vote of confidence by team management.
3. Lakers C Dwight Howard (shoulder) collected 17 points and 13 rebounds on Friday after leaving the previous game with the injury.