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Lakers – Thunder: 10 Need to Knows

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.

LAL – DAL Preview Pod: Mavs TV’s Mark Followill

To look further into Wednesday evening’s matchup between the Lakers and Mavericks in Dallas, we enlisted Mavericks TV play-by-play announcer Mark Followill to get the inside scoop on Dirk Nowitzki’s squad.

Followill discussed how different this team is from the championship version that relied upon departed players Tyson Chandler and (if to a lesser degree) J.J. Barea, explained why the Dallas D has been so strong of late, detailed what accounts for both the slow start and recent hot streak, looked at the legacy of Jason Kidd, Dirk and Kobe Bryant, talked about the difference in bench production for both teams and told us what to look out for in Wednesday’s game.

To listen, click play below:

Podcast: Lakers in Canada

The final stop of L.A.’s six-game Grammy trip comes in Canada, a Sunday date with the Toronto Raptors, so we called one of our favorite Canadians — Tas Melas of The Basketball Jones — to see what we needed to learn.

Despite Melas’ envy of our ability to acquire tickets to the Maple Leafs – Canadiens hockey game subsequent to Lakers practice on Saturday evening (is there anything more Canadian?), he kindly told us why there is such an impressive amount of Lakers fans in Toronto, what to expect from the Raptors*, what makes Toronto such a cool city and more.
*The Raptors (9-19) beat Boston handily just as the Lakers were losing to the Knicks on Friday evening, meaning the Lakers need a win to salvage a .500 mark on the trip.

To listen, click below:

Lakers Must Rebound Quickly for Jazz

After a bus ride at a marathoner’s pace through snowy Denver and a thorough de-icing of the team plane’s wings once the Lakers got on board, the team finally took off for Salt Lake City at about 2:30 a.m., a 93-89 road victory in the Mile High City already a thing of the past.

By the time the players were actually in their respective hotel rooms in Salt Lake City in advance of a 7 p.m. tip that evening, the clocks were showing 4 a.m., meaning L.A. would have only 15 hours between entering rooms and tipping off.

This particular back-to-back happens to be more grueling than usual due to a combination of a late national TV start (8:40 p.m. tip) and winter weather conditions, but it’s not something Derek Fisher hasn’t seen time and again in his 16th NBA season.

“I think the No. 1 step you take is mental,” Fisher explained after playing a key role in the final defensive stanza that allowed L.A. to hold on and beat the Nuggets. “You make a decision right after the game, in the Denver locker room, that you’re going to start preparing for the game in Utah. You start telling yourself that you have to figure out a way to bring the necessary energy, passion and commitment to the next night’s game, and there are no excuses.”

Utah, after all, isn’t too interested with what time the Lakers turned lights out in their hotel rooms.

“Utah could care less if we played the night before,” Fisher agreed. “We talked briefly about it as a group – making sure guys are hydrating, taking care of themselves tonight and trying to put the right things in their body so that they can respond. But it’s early in the six-game trip, this is just game No. 2 (coming up), and there’s no reason to be tired just yet.”

When the Lakers do actually take the court against Utah at 7 p.m., it may be the first time they learn who’s going to play in what has become a very beat up Jazz back court.

Regular starter at the point Devin Harris missed the team’s Thursday loss at Golden State due to a hamstring strain, and is a game-time decision who doesn’t appear too likely to play based on his comments. Regular back up point Earl Watson sprained his ankle and also missed Thursday’s game, and may also find it tough to play against L.A., leaving third stringer Jamaal Tinsley — who was actually the No. 1 pick of the D-League draft by the L.A. D-Fenders before being called into Utah’s camp and making the team — as the only sure option. Tinsley played well against the Warriors, totaling 13 assists, with nine points and six boards in 34 minutes.

The team’s regular shooting guard, Raja Bell, who has guarded Kobe Bryant so many times, has also missed the last three games due to an adductor strain, and is questionable to play as well. Gordon Hayward, who usually starts at the 3, started at the two, while Josh Howard filled in at small forward. Both played very well, totaling 40 points in nearly 40 minutes a piece. Rookie Alec Burks was the only back court sub for the Jazz; he scored seven points in 13 minutes.

Utah’s strength will remain in the front court, where Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors all see minutes, but the Lakers would certainly prefer a low post battle to the type of open court game Denver tried to play – if unsuccessfully – in the first of this back-to-back.

We’ll see how it all works out in a (very) few hours.

Lakers – Wolves Preview Podcast

Less than 24 hours after a 100-89 loss at Milwaukee, the Lakers must rebound for a 4 p.m. Pacific tip in Minneapolis against an improved Timberwolves team that’s 9-10 after defeating San Antonio for the second time this season.

The Lakers have dominated the Wolves in recent years, winning 15 consecutive games, including sweeps in each of the past four seasons, but have started this season with just a 1-7 road record.

To discuss the matchup, we enlisted Minneapolis based AP reporter Jon Krawczynski, who has not only covered the Wolves for several seasons, but also spent two years covering the Indiana Pacers (2003-05) when Mike Brown was Rick Carlisle’s lead assistant. Krawczynski offered his thoughts on Brown, explained the two sides of the “Is Kevin Love a max player” argument, discussed Ricky Rubio — whom he said has entirely changed the culture in Minnesota and is the primary reason for the team’s turnaround — in detail and looked specifically towards the matchup against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.

To listen, click below:

Bucks Big Man Bogut out vs. Lakers

The Lakers always have a size and length advantage in the paint thanks to their pair of 7-footers in Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, and when the team opens a road back-to-back with Milwaukee on Saturday evening, that edge will be greater than usual.

This because Bucks center Andrew Bogut fractured his left ankle in his 12th game of the season (@HOU, 1/25), an injury that is expected to keep him out between eight and 12 weeks, as Bucks GM John Hammond announced on Thursday.

The Australian big man, taken No. 1 overall in 2005, was averaging 11.3 points, and team-highs 8.3 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in 30 minutes per game.

The Bucks are expected to start Drew Gooden in Bogut’s place, while Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Ersan Ilyasova, Larry Sanders or Jon Leuer could also see increased playing time. Lakers coach Mike Brown coached Gooden in Cleveland for three years, with Gooden playing a key starting role on the 2007 team that went to the Finals. This season, Gooden had three outstanding games in Bogut’s absence, including a 24-point, 12-rebound performance in a loss to Utah and an 18-point, 13-board game in a loss to the Clippers.

Nonetheless, Bynum and Gasol tower over Gooden (6-10, 250) and Mbah a Moute (6-8, 230), encouraging L.A. to aggressively pound the ball inside offensively … even if that’s always a major part of the team’s game plan.

Though the Bucks have generally played L.A. very tough, the Lakers have managed to eight of their last 10 in Milwaukee and 6-of-7 overall, losing only a Dec. 21, 2010 contest at home.

This season’s Bucks have been led by point guard Brandon Jennings, an L.A. native, who’s averaging 20.2 points (44% FG’s) and 5.5 assists to pace his team. Stephen Jackson, acquired in a trade with Charlotte that included Corey Maggette in the offseason, scores 13.0 points per game but is shooting only 37%, while Mike Dunleavy and Carlos Delfino are each just a tad under a 10.0 point per game average.

Tip time is at 5:30 p.m., when L.A. will look to snap a 3-game road losing streak.

LAL – LAC Preview Podcast: Brian Sieman

Clippers radio play-by-play voice Brian Sieman joined us on a preview podcast to discuss Wednesday’s Lakers – Clippers matchup, a rematch of a Jan. 14 102-94 home win for the Clips.

Among the topics: Chris Paul’s hamstring (Sieman expects him to return after missing five straight games); Blake Griffin’s post game; the Clippers’ lack of frontcourt depth; how a light early schedule (four fewer games than the Lakers) has helped; what he thinks the Clippers need to do to win and more.

To listen, click play below:

Lakers Draw Magic on Back-to-Back

With 7:22 left in the fourth quarter of Thursday night’s loss in Miami, the Lakers trailed 89-69 in a game that hadn’t been too competitive since early in the second quarter.

It was perhaps the first time in the young season that L.A. hadn’t brought the proper energy needed to win a game, and Mike Brown didn’t want that feeling to sit, so he brought the starters back in.

“I wanted to see our guys fight,” he explained after the game. “I didn’t care what the score was, and the way these games are, sometimes you can’t worry about the next one. I wanted to leave them out there, see them fight — and they did. It’s a confidence builder for me, and hopefully it’s a confidence builder for them.”

The starters did play better basketball in the final minutes, cutting Miami’s lead essentially in half before a 98-87 final score, even as Andrew Bynum admitted that was because Miami stopped playing as hard with the win secured. Regardless, Brown wanted to send a message about what kind of effort would be needed moving forward with the season, starting with Friday evening’s game at Orlando.

By the time the Lakers got to the team’s hotel in Disney World land, it was already 2:30 a.m., prompting Brown to cancel shootaround in favor of getting his players some rest, but his coaches continued to work on the scouting report and game plan.

With Dwight Howard anchoring the Magic middle and a bevy of three-point shooters surrounding him, L.A. has struggled to win regular season games in Orlando, having dropped three straight contests, thought it did of course win 2-of-3 games on the road to secure the 2009 NBA title.

To break the streak, L.A. knows it will have to figure out how to better execute on offense, which has been difficult while trying to adjust to a new system this season. The Lakers have been winning games with defense and just enough offense to get by, but Derek Fisher knows that will need to improve.

“We are getting really bogged down on the offensive end of the floor,” he said. “It’s going to be tough to get back into defense every time. We’ll get there. We have to remain focused on our objectives and goals. You can’t play from behind on the road in a consistent basis. We have to get off to better starts. We have to be sharp in our execution offensively.”

Kobe Bryant has averaged 25.0 points per game against Orlando in 26 career games against the Magic, though the offense out of which he’s currently getting his NBA-best 30.4 points per game he called “under construction” after the Heat loss. Four consecutive 40-point games for Bryant featured a great many touches for Bryant, and while Brown knows he can go to a that, he knows L.A. needs to have better balance on offense in the long run, causing the team to “experiment,” in Bryant’s words.

The Magic, meanwhile have been scoring a lot of points (seventh most in the NBA) thanks to strong perimeter shooting and Howard’s efficiency inside, but have allowed teams to shoot well against them, conceding 44.4 percent field goal percentage against (15th in the NBA) compared with L.A.’s 41.1 percent (2nd).

Howard leads Orlando with 20.1 points, 15.6 boards, and 2.4 blocks, while Anderson has surprised with strong averages of 17.8 points on 41.4 percent shooting from three (46 makes). Hedo Turkoglu has rebounded from a poor 2010-11, averaging 14.5 points with 4.9 assists and taking over crunch time duties, while J.J. Redick is having a career year with 12.4 points himself.

The game tips at 5 p.m. Pacific on KCAL-9 and 710 ESPN radio, and you can follow along during the action right here: Follow Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) on Twitter.

LAL – Heat Preview Pod: ESPN’s Arnovitz

Kobe, LeBron, Gasol, Bosh, Bynum … Wade?

We know that at least five of the six stars on L.A.’s and Miami’s respective rosters will be playing on Thursday night in South Beach, but Dwyane Wade (foot) remains a question mark. To break down the potential impact of Miami missing Wade, LeBron vs. Kobe, how the Heat and the Lakers fit into the league’s big picture, the specific matchup, Miami’s new offense and more, we enlisted ESPN.com’s Kevin Arnovitz.

Arnovitz covered the Heat throughout the entire 2010-11 campaign as the editor of The Heat Index at ESPN.com before returning to Los Angeles, and currently serves as an NBA writer, Clippers podcast host and co-editor of the True Hoop blog.

To listen, click play below:

Cavs Preview Podcast: Jeff Phelps

The Lakers play the Cleveland Cavaliers, Mike Brown’s former team, only once this season due to the compressed NBA schedule, so to better understand what we can expect in advance of Friday night’s contest, we dialed up Fox Sports Ohio sideline reporter Jeff Phelps.

An Akron, Ohio, native, Phelps has been covering the Cavs on TV for nine years, and Cleveland sports for 24 years, so he was there for the entire Brown and LeBron James eras. He shared what he knows about Brown and his assistant John Kuester, offered a variety of thoughts on James, detailed the strong start to the season from Cavs point guard Kyrie Irving, discussed current Cleveland coach and former Showtime Laker Byron Scott, underrated big man Anderson Varejao and more: