Lakers-Thunder: 5 things to watch for

January, 11, 2013
1/11/13
2:05
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- The Oklahoma City Thunder, with the second-best record in the Western Conference, come into Friday's game having gone just 6-4 in their past 10 games. Boy, would the Los Angeles Lakers gladly take their troubles. The Lakers have dropped five games in a row and are in danger of another loss, which would mark their worst losing streak since March 2007.

Here are five things to watch for on Friday:

1. Doing the math

Was Mike D’Antoni’s “the hole's not too big -- mathematically we can still make the playoffs” quote simply a matter-of-fact calculation or a foreboding statement, like when Phil Jackson declared the Lakers would bring their series back to L.A. after falling behind 0-2 to the Dallas Mavericks and eventually being swept? Well, the Lakers have lost two more games since D’Antoni said that, making their playoff goal even more improbable. But impossible? That remains to be seen. The Lakers’ worst record after 30 games in a season in which they made the playoffs was 2002-03 when they started 11-19, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The team with the worst start in NBA history after 30 games that rallied to make the postseason was the 1984-85 Cleveland Cavaliers. Of course, another loss to the Thunder -- potentially their sixth in a row -- would make the improbable seem even more impossible.

2. The turnover battle

As bad as the Lakers have been at protecting the basketball for most of the season, the return of Steve Nash has helped normalize that number. The Thunder however, with their freewheeling style of play, are next-to-last in the league with 15.7 turnovers per game. The trick will be for the Lakers to capitalize on transition opportunities when the Thunder do cough it up, but not to get in a track meet with Kevin Durant & Co. Oklahoma City is just 3-4 this season when being held under 100 points.

3. Reel in Kobe

Kobe Bryant is shooting 47.5 percent from the field this season, which is the best clip of his 17-season career. Yet Bryant has fallen on hard times, as he's shot 43 percent or worse in his past three games, his longest such streak this season. With Pau Gasol (concussion) and Dwight Howard (shoulder) out, Bryant will be tempted to put the entire load on his shoulders, but the Lakers will be better off keeping a balance among Bryant, Nash, Metta World Peace and maybe even newly inserted starter Earl Clark on offense.

4. Defend the home court


The Lakers' five-game losing streak is bad enough, but the fact that two of the defeats came at Staples Center is even worse. The Lakers pulled off an upset by beating the Thunder in L.A. late last season -- the only time the Lakers have downed OKC in their past five regular-season meetings -- and they'll have to play with desperation to do it again.

5. Avoid the flat quarter

When the Lakers lost in Oklahoma City on Dec. 7, they actually outplayed the Thunder in three out of four quarters. Too bad they were outscored 41-25 in the second. Lakers players and coaches have been continually repeating the mantra about the necessity to play a full 48 minutes, and rightfully so. There have been too many games this season when L.A. has come out flat for a quarter and dashed its hopes of being able to overcome in whatever is left of the rest of the game.

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter. Brendan Mendoza of ESPN Stats & Info contributed to this report.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Kobe Bryant
PTS AST STL MIN
25.0 2.5 1.5 28.5
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Hill 10.5
AssistsR. Price 4.0
StealsR. Price 2.0
BlocksE. Davis 2.0