Russell Westbrook drives through Kobe Bryant and Antawn Jamison. (Larry W. Smith / EPA )
OKLAHOMA CITY — This wasn't the varsity versus the junior varsity.
It was the varsity against the alumni team, the flashy youngsters taking on the aging plodders, the class of the Western Conference further burying a team that wouldn't make the playoffs if they started today.
The excuses are getting as old as the Lakers' starting lineup in the wake of a 114-108 beatdown Friday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder that was close only in the final moments.
You can say the Lakers are still learning a new coach's system, that two of their starters weren't on the court at Chesapeake Energy Arena, that the season is still young and none of this will matter come springtime.
It's all as nonsensical as the belief that Steve Nash and Pau Gasol would make a difference against Russell Westbrook. The blur of a point guard was brilliant in the first half against the Lakers, throwing down a ferocious one-handed dunk and going for a four-point play late in the second quarter.
"I don't know if anyone in this group is going to guard him," Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni said.
That's not about to change. The 38-year-old Nash and the quickly fading Gasol won't improve a leaky Lakers' defense that yielded 41 points in the second quarter against the Thunder. Nash may actually make it worse.
The Lakers might as well have donated $100 million to AARP than to spend it on this collection of creaky-legged players who can't stay in front of their man on defense.
Chris Duhon knocked over Westbrook on his four-pointer, but it was the Lakers who were left with the bruises to show for it.
The Thunder continually exhibited more energy, Thabo Sefolosha twice stealing the ball from Kobe Bryant and Nick Collison materializing from nowhere to grab the ball for a midair layin.
Westbrook had 27 of his 33 points by halftime, matching the combined production of Bryant and Dwight Howard to that point.
It didn't seem like a fair fight even though the short-handed Lakers still had the same number of superstars as their counterparts. Kevin Durant caught and passed Westbrook by the end of the third quarter on his way to 36 points.
The Lakers, Bryant said, needed to "figure out how to stop runs. That just comes from experience."
Bryant finished with 35 points and it was just a footnote. The Lakers fell to 1-8 in games in which Bryant scores 30 or more points, but this loss could hardly be pinned on the fifth-leading scorer in NBA history.
He made a relatively efficient 11 of 24 shots and remembered to pass the ball on occasion, finishing with seven assists.
If there's one thing the Lakers seem to be flush with it's bravado.
"Obviously, we've got the best team in the NBA," Lakers forward Metta World Peace said. "But we've just got to go out there and play together."
What makes World Peace think the Lakers (9-11) are as good as it gets with a record two games below .500?
"Just look at the roster," he said. "We've got Dwight Howard. I'm in better shape this year."
Yeah, as if World Peace's physique is going to make the difference.
Durant said earlier in the day that he wasn't surprised the Lakers were in such disarray considering their extensive off-season makeover and early season upheaval.
"People underestimate chemistry in this league," Durant said. "They've had three coaches in this short season already and a lot of new guys, so it's going to take them some time. Everybody knows that. People expect quick results, especially in this league with Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. But chemistry is a big factor in this league."
So are defense and athleticism. The Lakers seem to be lacking on a lot of fronts these days.