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Lakers face a formidable foe in the youthful Thunder

The teams play Monday night at Staples Center for the first time since last spring's hard-fought playoff series, won by the Lakers in six games.

January 17, 2011|By Broderick Turner

It took six tough, hard-fought games.

It took every ounce of energy and effort.

It took all the Lakers had to escape the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the 2010 Western Conference playoffs, the Lakers winning in six games to advance to the next round.

Now the Lakers will face the young, talented and athletic Thunder for the first time this season at Staples Center on Monday night.

The Lakers just lost to a young, athletic Clippers team Sunday, and they know the Thunder will present them another big challenge.

Oklahoma City has two quality scorers whom Lakers Coach Phil Jackson mentioned as the hub of the Thunder's offense.

Forward Kevin Durant leads the NBA in scoring, averaging 28.5 points per game.

Guard Russell Westbrook, who attended UCLA, is 12th in the NBA in scoring, averaging 22.6 points per game, and he's ninth in assists, dishing out 8.3 per game.

"Obviously, you've got to stop their two scorers," Jackson said. "They are two of the top scorers in the league. They are going to threaten us at those positions.

"We had a hard time with it last year. We'll have to play with a real sound offense, because they do some things defensively that made us have to work offensively a little bit more."

The Thunder is 27-13, only one game behind the 30-12 Lakers in the loss column.

Oklahoma City, Jackson said, hasn't changed much since last season.

Besides Durant and Westbrook, the Thunder has youth in Jeff Green, James Harden and Serge Ibaka, who is averaging 26.1 minutes, 9.8 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in only his second season.

"I think they play Ibaka a few more minutes," Jackson said. "They pretty much have the same personnel and pretty much the same idea of what they were doing in the playoffs against us. I think it's two teams that match up and pretty much know what everybody is doing."

After the Lakers beat the Thunder in Game 6 in Oklahoma City, Kobe Bryant spotted Durant and Westbrook in the hallway of the Ford Center.

Bryant hugged both players, congratulated them and told them he was happy to be done with them and the Thunder.

"They execute very well," Bryant said. "They play discipline and they are extremely athletic. They know themselves; they know their style of play. They know what they need to do. I think when you put all that in the pot, they are extremely dangerous."

The Thunder enters the game with a four-game winning streak, and the Lakers are coming off their loss to the Clippers.

It was game in which the Lakers shot only 41.3% from the field, a dismal 15% (three for 20) from three-point range.

"We have to shoot better than we shot [Sunday]," Jackson said. "Our three-point shooting was pretty horrific. A lot of them went in and out. That will happen. And we have to have a little more energy for the [Thunder] game."

broderick.turner@latimes.com

twitter.com/BA_Turner

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