Lakers – Thunder Running Diary

With the exception of reserve forward Josh Powell, you’re finally going to see a full complement of Lakers tonight, a fact we learned from Phil Jackson before the game as Kobe Bryant and Sasha Vujacic will both play.

Speaking of Vujacic, he absolutely killed the pregame introduction over the loudspeakers to the fans in Ontario, skillfully pausing after his “welcome to your first NBA game” line to a (not Oklahoma City) thunderous roar. That’s going to be hard to beat, Sasha. Well done.

As mentioned in a previous entry, this is indeed the first game in Ontario’s Citizen’s Business Bank Arena, and a sell-out crowd of around 11,000 has already created a fully-charged, college-like atmosphere that should be fun for everybody.

First Quarter
Seattle (oops – knew that was going to happen) errrr Oklahoma City has a big lineup with Jeff Green (6-9) at the three and Kevin Durant (6-9) at the two, coupled with the 7-0 Johan Petro and 6-10 Nick Collison up front. They might not be quite as bad as they look on paper, but they’re probably fighting with Memphis to avoid having the league’s worst record. I’d worry a bit about their transition defense…

Kobe looks to be feeling OK. Just two deep threes without a hint of rim to make it 6-4 Lakers early on, then a defense-drawing slash through the lane resulting in a wide-open Gasol layup. Looking just as sharp are Gasol and Bynum, who combined for 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting, mostly right underneath the hoop, to give L.A. an 18-13 lead at the 6:03 mark. Bynum added a big swat in the lane and a steal, and has certainly looked a bit better in each of L.A.’s eight preseason games.

Odom was the first Laker off the bench, as expected, though we should see Vujacic soon. And so we would at the 4:05 mark, after Bynum’s second massive alley-oop jam of the quarter. That’s 10 points for ‘Drew. Crowd loving that, not to mention the 25-13 lead. The Laker offense has been spectacular, and the defense has forced nothing but jumpers from the visiting light blue with orange trim jerseys.

Yesterday in our Gameday article I mentioned how Kevin Durant loves to get his FGAs. I just looked at the stat sheet and he’s taken eight shots already. He’s only made two, meaning he’s about on track to match his shooting percentage from last year. Sure, he averaged 20.3 points as a rookie, but he takes more shots than almost anyone in the league, and they’re all jumpers! Plus he’s 6-9 and averaged just 2.4 boards a game. Doesn’t this anger anyone else? I would have taken either Al Horford or Luis Scola for Rookie of the Year over Durant, and I don’t think it was close. That’s just me though, I guess…

Lakers lead 30-22 after one.

Second Quarter
OK, this “second” lineup for L.A. is unfair: Gasol, Odom, Ariza, Vujacic and Farmar. That’s a lot of talent for group No. 2, isn’t it? But for some reason, 2K8 No. 4 pick Russell Westbrook and Damien Wilkins decided to make four straight jumpers to start the quarter, inching to within a point at 32-31 before a gorgeous move under the hoop by Farmar.

Vujacic update: Sasha’s been running around with fervor, but he hasn’t been able to crack the stat sheet in three minutes with the exception of a foul committed underneath the hoop. His first shot came from – you guessed it – three-point land, but it was contested and he missed badly. Let’s give him some time. Farmar, on the other hand, hasn’t needed much time, not after making 3-of-4 shots for six points plus a drop-off assist for an Ariza layup.

Seven points in the first five minutes of the second from Westbrook helped OKC take a momentary lead, and I have to say, the Lakers look much less formidable without Bynum in the paint – on both ends of the floor. Again, it’s only been a few minutes, but the Lakers were dominating down low while building their lead, and are now settling mostly for jumpers and allowing easy looks from the Thunder at the other end.

Almost on cue with that note on Bynum, the big beast checked back in and immediately layed in next to the hoop. Farmar then swiped a ball near midcourt and used his 43-inch vertical to throw down a double-pump dunk that put L.A. back up three. Moments later, Bynum made up for two missed free throws with another contest in the lane that forced Jeff Green into a miss. Next in the AB show came an offensive board and two more free throws, this time making one. After a Vlad three, Bynum changed another shot in the lane that Vlad rebounded and eventually kicked to Fisher for an and-1, and suddenly it’s 54-46 Lakers.

That’s 13 points, three boards, two blocks, an assist and a steal in 15 minutes. The kid’s dominating the game, plain and simple.

Moments later … Ariza dunked all up on Jeff Green’s face. Green must have felt like you’d feel if you thought your dad brought you an autograph home from this game you thought was Kobe Bryant, but instead you got OKC’s Mouhamed Sene … not that he’d mistake Bryant for Sene … whatever. In the final minute, we saw another Bynum alley-oop, this time from Vlad: “That doesn’t get old,” said Ty. “It’s always fun.” Touche. So is a 63-53 Lakers lead at the half.

Kobe/Sasha note: Bryant played the first six minutes of the game only, scoring six points on those two threes, while Vujacic saw seven minutes and missed his only shot.

Third Quarter
Gotta say, I don’t like how few touches Gasol’s gotten tonight, even though Bynum’s been so effective. He’s shooting 65 percent this preseason … How about some shots this quarter?

Westbrook’s been excellent tonight, having just nailed his second consecutive tough and-1 of the quarter (though he missed the FT). He has 16 points on 6-of-8 plus 4-of-5 FTs. Add on a tech to Fish, who was complaining about not getting a foul call the previous possession.

Slick, sleek, smooth drive from Lamar and a left-handed finish at the rim. In 16 minutes LO’s up to eight points, two boards, three dimes, two steals and four personals. Bynum, meanwhile, is the high man with 19 points and six boards with three blocks, two assists and a steal as L.A. holds a 77-66 lead with just under five minutes to play. Sorry – another Bynum dunk and he’s got 21 in 25 minutes. Tonight would be a good time for him to go to Vegas, cause it’s all working. He could go to postgame dinner with Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek, eat raw meat and not get sick and then have a nightcap discussion with just-flown-in Nelson Mandela to learn about the world.

Desmond Mason just jumped waaaay up in the air for a nice block, reminding me that he won the 2001 Slam Dunk Contest.

There’s Sasha. A baseline jumper in transition from Farmar got him on the board for the preseason and gave L.A. an 85-75 lead heading into the final quarter, a lead punctuated by a baseline turnaround from Bynum near the quarter horn.

Fourth Quarter
Great find from Vujacic to Walton for a wide-open three. Pretty play over the top. Through three quarters, L.A. made 10 more shots than OKC, with both taking 62 shots. That’s a difference of about 18 percent in shooting.

Chris Mihm went down really hard on his back at the 8:01 mark, but fortunately got up almost immediately and took a spot on the bench in favor of D.J. Mbenga. On the floor with D.J. are Farmar, Ariza, Vujacic and Walton. Quick thought: it’s good for Ty and I to see that Jackson has Bryant, Odom, Gasol and Bynum on the bench resting, all healthy heading into Tuesday’s opener against Portland.

Not going to name names here, but one of the refs (No. 47) likes calling fouls more than the original Hummers like to guzzle gas (which I heard was like $2.20 a gallon in Minnesota).

The score at the 6:05 mark is 97-82 Lakers, and everybody just wants the regular season to start. The Lakers will finish the preseason on a six-game winning streak, which should render the team’s best preseason record in years (6-2). Not that Phil cares, just saying.

With 2:53 remaining it’s Sasha and the last four guys off the bench on the floor, and my main priority is willing Sun Yue to a three-pointer.

Let’s give out a few quick awards for the game:
MVP: Andrew Bynum – 23 points, eight boards, three blocks, two assists and a steal in 29 minutes.
Thank goodness your knee is fine award: Kobe.
Best rookie: Westbrook – 21 points, six boards, and assist and two steals
Best job of accruing fouls in a short period of time award: D.J. Mbenga – four in about three minutes.
Best preseason: Farmar. 14 points, five assists, three boards and two steals in 20 minutes cemented a fantastic stretch of eight games for the third-year guard. Gasol didn’t play much tonight, or he’d have been in the running.
Least playing time after three years in the NBA: OKC’s Robert Swift.
Best hair: Swift, he of 14 pounds of red hair.
Best possible conclusion to the preseason award: Sun Yue for a clear out, spin-move, fade-away jumper for his first and only preseason field goal.

Final score: 105-94 Lakers.