Lakers vs Thunder on Eve of 2012 NBA All Star Weekend
The second game of tonight’s TNT double-header has playoffs preview written all over it, as the (20-13, Road: 6-11) Los Angeles Lakers try to make it six of seven when they visit the team with the best record in the league, the (26-7, Home: 14-1) Oklahoma City Thunder.
As we close out the unofficial first half of the season and head into the 2012 NBA All-Star Weekend in style, the question is: what will the Purple and Gold’s roster look like should these teams meet in the 2012 NBA postseason?
Of course, I’m referring to all the trade talks surrounding Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum this year. The Lakers’ twin towers have been involved in trade rumors since the NBA lockout ended in November and haven’t stopped swirling.
In fact, in the case of the 7-foot Spaniard, he had already been sent to Houston in a three-team deal that would have made Chris Paul a Laker before NBA commissioner David Stern vetoed the trade. Talks about the different scenarios and possible destinations for Gasol were getting so out of control last week, that it became a huge distraction for this team.
As a result, team captain Kobe Bryant publicly aired his frustrations with the team’s front office’s approach and even held a players-only meeting to rally the troops. Whatever was discussed at that meeting seemed to have worked, as the Lakers came out the very next day and took care of the Mavericks at home, 96-91.
Gasol was able to channel all his frustrations on the court, as he played like a man possessed, finishing with a team-high 24 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals. But with the March 15th trade-deadline approaching, Gasol could be playing his last game as a Laker tonight in OKC. Having that said, the 4-time All-Star isn’t worrying about the things he simply cannot control anymore.
“I just try to put everything behind me,” Gasol said. “I just try to play the game. I try to play aggressive. (This win) shows we’re on the same page and we’ve got a lot of character.”
For the Thunder — a young team tied for the best record in the league with Miami — they’re licking their chops anticipating the challenges a veteran, championship-tested team like the Lakers may present. Listed by most NBA oddsmakers as the clear favorites to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals this year, this will be a statement game for OKC. The question for the Thunder is: will they rise to the occasion, or falter against a refocused Lakers squad?
Much like their counterparts, the Thunder will also be playing the second game of a back-to-back this evening. Oklahoma City is coming off a 119-104 victory over another aging, battle-tested team in the Boston Celtics last night. The most dynamic duo in the NBA right now shined last night, as Russell Westbrook poured in 31, to go with Kevin Durant’s 28 points on the victory. Even without Rajon Rondo in the lineup, overcoming Boston’s late-game rally was a good test for OKC as they state their case as the best in the West.
“We knew this team was going to keep fighting us. Giving up is not in their character and they have a great coach and a great group of guys,” said the reigning, back-to-back NBA scoring champ. “We knew they were going to come out and fight. We knew they were going to make a run. That’s what happens in this league. But I think we did a good job of staying composed and pulling it out.”