The Lakers' Kobe Bryant shoots a fadeaway jumper over Oklahoma City's… (Paul Buck / EPA )
Things to watch when the Lakers host the Oklahoma City Thunder at Staples Center on Saturday night for Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals. The Thunder leads the series, 2-1.
1. Will the Lakers show fatigue? Kobe Bryant hardly showed much sympathy for his team having to play on back-to-back days. “Put your big boy pants on, leave your diaper at home," Bryant said after the Lakers' 99-96 Game 3 win over the Thunder. Still, this issue will go beyond whether the Lakers put in the effort. Given the stakes, there's no reason to think the Lakers won't be fully dialed into this game. But there's a big disparity between the Lakers and Thunder in age, experience and athleticism. After the Lakers poured everything they had to secure Game 3, it's possible they will run on fumes.
2. The Lakers have to control the pace. One way to mitigate the possible shortcomings in their energy level involves making sound decisions on offense. Yet, there's a danger on how the Lakers approach that. Even though the Lakers have to minimize turnovers and low-percentage shots, they can't play not to lose. That will only delay the inevitable run the Thunder will make in transition. The Lakers instead have to control the pace by showing purpose with where they move the ball, where they find open shots and where they cut to the basket.
3. Can the Lakers get a stronger inside game? Persisting double teams, Kendrick Perkins' aggressiveness and Serge Ibaka's length made the Lakers post production pretty modest. Andrew Bynum went only two for 13 from the field despite great looks on hooks, jumpers and post-ups. Pau Gasol remained efficient with his mid-range jumpers, but his 50% clip came on only eight field-goal attempts.
The Lakers made up for their modest post production by channeling their efforts on defense and still showing patience in having crisp ball movement. But the Lakers aren't going to win many games unless they boost their numbers in this area. The Thunder devoted most of its resources toward the Lakers' bigs (and Bryant, of course). That probably won't change. So that puts the onus on Bynum to show more versatility in his post moves beyond putting his back to the basket. This also puts more of a burden on Gasol to attack the basket more instead of playing in the high post area.
4. Will Ramon Sessions build off a strong performance in Game 3? After scoring only a combined four points in Games 1 and 2, Sessions showed much more confidence in looking for his own shot in Game 3 by dropping 12 points. Sessions, for a while, has maintained there's difficulty in establishing the proper line between setting up his teammates and looking for his shot. But Lakers Coach Mike Brown and Sessions' teammates don't think it's a tough balance to strike. Instead of reacting to defensive tendencies, Sessions must impose his will so the Thunder feels more pressured in determining who it has to guard.
5. Matt Barnes needs to get out of his playoff funk.
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