Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka, left, tumbles over Lakers center Andrew… (Sue Ogrocki / Associated…)
Things to watch when the Lakers host the Oklahoma City Thunder at Staples Center tonight for Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals. The Thunder leads the series 2-0.
1. How will the Lakers respond after a disappointing ending in Game 2? Barely any negative vibes permeated the Lakers' practice facility Thursday and after morning shoot-around on Friday. That ranged from the Lakers' confidence in overcoming a 2-0 deficit, not assigning blame to anyone for the loss or lamenting the team's current state. Of course, that's better than the alternative. But with exception to Andrew Bynum, the Lakers routinely provide all the right answers when they speak. But will they back it up with their actions?
Who knows considering how unpredictable the Lakers have proven all season. But two instances will largely tell how engaged the Lakers are in the game. The opening minutes will help set the tone and showcase to what degree which Lakers are taking this game seriously. The moment the Thunder goes on a significant run will reveal whether the Lakers have the heart and effort to keep fighting. Credit the Lakers for having such an attitude in Game 2 after losing by 29 points in Game 1. But coughing up a seven-point lead in the final two minutes could be a different issue.
2. Mike Brown will throw all his chips into tonight's game. The Lakers face a potential stumbling block by playing home games on consecutive nights, but don't expect Brown to worry one bit about tempering minutes. He said after Friday's shoot-around that he will worry about securing a Game 3 victory first even if it involves overcoming a double-digit deficit. Meanwhile, Brown and his coaching staff plan to stay awhile after the game to go over film. Consider this the equivalent of cramming for a term paper. It might require an all-nighter and some energy drinks. But the sleep can come after the season, or at least until Sunday should the Lakers extend the series past four games.
3. Can the Lakers maintain their defensive principles? For 46 minutes of Game 2, the Lakers provided the correct blueprint on how to defend the Thunder in both points allowed (77 in Game 2 compared to 119 in Game 1), shooting percentage (42% in Game 2, 53% in Game 1) and turnovers (13 in Game 2, four in Game 1). The Lakers ensured such numbers by contesting jumpers, particularly on pick-and-roll coverages. They constantly hustled back on defense. They constantly communicated.
The Lakers have no other choice than to adopt that grinding mentality. But it's possible the Lakers won't have as much success defensively as they did in Game 2. The Thunder will likely adjust its pick-and-roll schemes. It's possible they'll shoot a better clip from the outside. The sheer energy required to stay disciplined could prove too overwhelming for the veteran-laden Lakers.
4. The Lakers have to control the pace of play. Because of the uncertainty on whether the Lakers can muster enough energy for another solid defensive effort, the Lakers have to play at a methodical pace. This will allow Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol to wear down a limited Kendrick Perkins. The frequent ball movement could free up Kobe Bryant, who has only averaged 37.2% shooting from the field thus far. And it will help prevent the Thunder from running in transition.
5. Will Ramon Sessions show more aggressiveness? Even if the Lakers want to play at a slower tempo, Sessions has to show more willingness to look for his own shot after scoring only four points combined in Games 1 and 2. Yet, there seems to be a disconnect between Sessions and Brown on how to proceed. Brown said after Thursday's practice that he has the green light to shoot and that he wants him to constantly look to score. Meanwhile, Sessions says the playbook often features sets involving Bryant, Bynum and Gasol so he doesn't want to force the issue. The correct answer involves Sessions striking a balance in setting up the Big Three while looking for his own opportunities. But so far in this playoff series, he hasn't done that.
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