To earn the rest that will come with the All-Star break – for everyone but Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum, that is – the Lakers must first complete perhaps its toughest road back-to-back of the season, with Thursday evening’s contest at Western-leading Oklahoma City (26-7) on the docket following a tough 96-91 win at Dallas.
Here are 10 things you need to know heading into the game at the Thunder’s gym:
1) HISTORY: The Lakers won last season’s series with OKC 2-1 after claiming the 2009-10 series 3-1. As such, the Lakers have now taken the last six consecutive season series from Oklahoma City, sweeping 2008-09 (3-0) and 2007-08 (4-0) and taking 2006-07 (3-1) and 2005-06 (2-1). Meeting two years ago in the First Round of the 2010 NBA Playoffs, the Lakers advanced past the Thunder in six games (4-2) and improved to 6-2 in postseason series against the franchise.
2) STREAKS: The Lakers are 15-3 in their last 18 games against the Thunder in the regular season. This includes an 8-2 mark on the road in the last 10.
3) KOBE’S RECORD … in SEATTLE: In 2006-07, Bryant established a franchise series record with 46 points at KeyArena only to surpass it nine days later with 50 points 4/15/07 at home against the then Sonics. In those games, he surpassed the Jerry West’s 45-point mark established in 1970.
4) THIS SEASON’S SCORING LIST: With an average of 28.5 points per game, Kobe holds a slight lead over Thunder All-Star Kevin Durant, who has recently surpassed LeBron James to average 27.7 per contest. Durant has been the more efficient player from the field, shooting an impressive 51.2 percent to Bryant’s 43.9 percent, even if Durant gets more easy baskets thanks in part to his young legs in transition.
5) WORLD PEACE ONE STEAL SHY OF 1,500: Metta, who will see a lot of Durant, needs just one steal to reach an impressive 1,500 for his stellar defensive career. Currently fifth on the active players list (Kobe is second to Jason Kidd), World Peace has finished among the top-five in the NBA in steals per game five times in his career and has led his team in steals in 10 of his 12 NBA seasons. A member of the NBA All-Defensive First Team in 2004 and 2006 and the NBA All-Defensive Second Team in 2003 and 2009, the 2004 Defensive P.O.Y. 37th on the NBA’s All-Time steals list.
6) THUNDER STARS FROM LOS ANGELES: All-Star Russell Westbrook played at UCLA and in high school at Leuzinger (Lawndale, CA), and his teammate and L.A. native James Harden played locally at Artesia High School. Thunder head coach Scott Brooks also played locally prior to his NBA career at UC-Irvine.
7) WESTERN STANDINGS: If the Lakers win, they’ll improve to 21-13 to tie Dallas for fourth in the Western Conference, though L.A. has a leg up on the tiebreaker with the Mavs thanks to going 2-0 against them this season. The Thunder would then be 26-8, five games up in the loss column on L.A. and three games up on San Antonio (23-10). If the Thunder win, L.A. will settle for fifth place at 20-14 into the break.
8) INJURY UPDATE: The Thunder will be without backup PG Eric Maynor, who tore his ACL early in the season, and Thabo Sefolosha, out with right foot soreness. Reserve Lazar Haywood is also out with an orbital floor fracture, while Nick Collison is the only question mark. He missed OKC’s win over Boston last night, but is a game time decision with a left quad contusion. The Lakers are relatively healthy, and will have their full squad available — credit the team’s terrific training staff.
9) THUNDER TERRIFIC AT HOME: OKC has lost only one game all season at Chesapeake Energy Arena, winning 11 consecutive games, losing only to Portland on Jan. 3. They’re 14-1 overall at home, slightly better than L.A.’s 14-2. The Lakers surely regret blowing leads in the final minutes against both Chicago and Indiana, their only two home losses.
10) SWATTING SHOTS: Led by Serge Ibaka, somehow a Spanish National Team cohort of Pau Gasol’s, OKC leads the NBA in blocks with an average of 8.0 per game. Ibaka set a franchise record with 11 swats against the Nuggets on Sunday night and averages 3.3 blocks per game to lead the league.