6 min read

Lakers vs. Thunder: Pregame Primer

Lakers vs. Thunder: Pregame Primer



Lakers (16-64, 5-35 road) vs. Thunder (54-26, 31-9 home)

TV: FSOklahoma
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 1300 AM The Buzz Tulsa)
Time: 7:00 PM CST

Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)

  • Offensive Rating: Thunder – 110.1 (2nd), Lakers – 98.8 (29th)
    Defensive Rating: Thunder – 103.3 (12th), Lakers – 109.5 (30th)
Warning: There will be a lot of talk on this primer about a player who plays on the opposing team. This is not a Royce or ESPN mandate. This is a me mandate. We have the opportunity to see the final road game for one of the greats of our generation. So if you don’t want to hear about an opposing player, please stop reading and continue on in the comments section (Yes, I know. You do that anyways. You don’t have to tell me).

A couple years ago, I wrote an article on my site about the impact of Kobe Bryant on the Oklahoma City Thunder. The article was written when Bryant first suffered his Achilles tear three seasons ago. With the sun finally setting on Bryant’s career, I’d like to take this time to rehash some of the words from that article, as they still hold very true to this day.

Big brothers serve two purposes in life: to frustrate and to motivate. The frustration part comes from the big brother’s ability to dominate over the little brother due to being older, bigger, and wiser. The motivation part comes from the little brother wanting to be better than the big brother. The thing about this big brother/little brother dynamic is that the little brother is able to take notes on how to best his big brother, while the big brother just has to wing being a big brother. In a lot of ways, with all due respect to Kendrick Perkins, Nazr Mohammed, Derek Fisher, Royal Ivey, Kevin Ollie, and Desmond Mason, the best example of a big brother to the Oklahoma City Thunder has been Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant. With his recent season-ending (and hopefully, not career ending) Achilles tendon tear, I was forced to evaluate Bryant’s legacy when it comes to the Thunder.

In a way, the Thunder big brothers were more like the supportive big brothers that point out your flaws privately, while Bryant is more the competitive big brother that forced you to either get better or get out of the way.

Every successful, up and coming team has that one hurdle they set their sights on. If you’re a team that is coming out of the dredges of the draft lottery, you mark successes in increments. First step is to be competitive on a nightly basis. The next step is to get into the playoffs. Then the next step is to be successful in the playoffs. You keep going until, hopefully, eventually, you win a championship. But along the way, especially in the early stages of the ascension, you always target that one team that’s been there and done that. For the Chicago Bulls in the late 80’s and early 90’s, it was the Detroit Pistons. For the San Antonio Spurs in the late 90’s and early 00’s, it was the Houston Rockets. And for the Thunder, it was the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.
As fate would have it, that 2010 playoff series that pitted the No. 1 seeded Lakers vs. the No. 8 seeded Thunder was probably the best thing for the development of the Thunder. The fact that they were able to give the eventual champion Lakers a fight in the first round did wonders for the confidence of the young Thunder. But if you broke it down to its simplest form, the Thunder didn’t give the Lakers a test. They gave Kobe a test. They planted the seed in Kobe’s head that we would be a force to be reckoned with for the foreseeable future. When the crowd would chant, “Beat LA”, they were actually chanting “Beat Kobe”. Nobody feared Pau Gasol, or Andrew Bynum, or Derek Fisher. We knew that Kobe had received the message. And that was both awesome and fearsome at the same time.

In hindsight, the Thunder trying to keep up with the Lakers is probably what prevented them from being able to adapt to the style of play from today. The NBA shifted so quickly from the normal “two big men, two wings, and a point guard” style to the “pace and space” style of today, that the Thunder failed to get the right pieces in place for that shift. If they could have foreseen what the NBA would become, maybe they would’ve kept James Harden. Maybe.

So with that, I say, thank you to Kobe Bean Bryant. He has as much a stake in the Thunder’s ascension and success as does any of the veterans that played for the team. He was the target that we went after when we wanted to be successful. Much like an older brother, he frustrated us. But he also motivated us. And we learned much from facing him and defeating him. Whatever the future holds for Kobe, just realize that the future of the Oklahoma City Thunder was shaped, in part, by the man in the Lakers uniform that we feared and respected the most.

Props to number 24. This is me doing the literal equivalent of a standing ovation.

Series History

This is the fourth and final meeting of the season between the Thunder and Lakers. The Thunder has swept the season series up to this point, 3-0. They won the first two games in blowout fashion, by 40 and 35 points respectively. Their last meeting was a lot more competitive after Lou Williams got hot from deep in the fourth quarter. The Thunder still managed to hold on and win by 4 points.

The Opponent

The Lakers come into this game with a 16-64 record, which is worst in the West and second worst in the league. If you gave the Lakers’ front office truth serum and asked them what was their goals for this season, it likely would’ve been to 1) turn this year into a Kobe farewell tour and 2) keep their 2016 1st round pick. That pick is protected for picks 1-3. Anything past that and the pick goes to the Philadelphia 76ers. If the Lakers were to somehow end up with the 4th pick in the next draft, that would be a serious blow to their rebuilding efforts.

As far as the team on the floor, they are bad. Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell (whenever he’s not breaking the bro code) are about the only bright spots on the team. I don’t know if they can be successful as a tandem in the future, but for right now, they are on track developmentally. Bryant has been as you would expect for an aging legend on his last leg: flashes of brilliance mixed with a lot of frustrating nights. The rest of team is bit parts and probably won’t be there in a year or two. The makeup of this team serves two purposes: to be bad enough for a complete rebuild and/or to have plenty of cap space for free agency.

3 Big Things

1. Limit Turnovers

Nothing gives a young, bad team hope like cashing in on turnovers. If the Thunder protect the ball, they should be fine in this game.

2. Make quick work of the Lakers

If the Thunder play their game, then the game should be over by halftime. If they don’t, shame on them (not that it matters really).

3. Soak in the moment

Many a great things have happened at the ‘Peake over the years. And tonight will just be one more thing to add to that. Getting to see Kobe Bryant’s final road game is something to tell your kids and grandkids about. That is, if you raise them right and have them become fans of basketball.

Thunder Killer

Kobe Bryant – Oh, what the hell? For old time’s sake, I guess.