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Preview: Lakers vs. Thunder

January 11, 2013|By Eric Pincus
  • Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook (Bob Levey / Associated Press )

The Lakers (15-20) host the Oklahoma City Thunder (27-8) on Friday night at Staples Center.

Pau Gasol has yet to be cleared for a return to the court after suffering a concussion Sunday against the Denver Nuggets. He will be reevaluated on Friday. Regardless, the Lakers will be without Dwight Howard (shoulder), Jordan Hill (hip) and Steve Blake (abdominal surgery).

Oklahoma City has the second-best record in the NBA, scoring 105.4 points a night. Only the Houston Rockets score more per game, at 106. The Lakers are a relatively high-scoring team (103.2) but defensively they've struggled, yielding 101.7 a night.  OKC is far more stingy, giving up just 96.3.

At full strength, the Lakers would have a real shot to beat the Thunder, but playing depleted? It could be ugly.

The Lakers have lost five straight and are five games behind the Denver Nuggets for the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Key matchup

As tremendous as Kevin Durant is as a player, the Lakers seem to have more trouble with Russell Westbrook. When they've been able to contain him, the Lakers have had a better chance to win.

Steve Nash can't guard Westbrook one-on-one, which could mean Darius Morris will be on point, staring alongside Nash and taking Westbrook. Kobe Bryant has had success against Westbrook in the past. The Lakers will probably throw Jodie Meeks at him as well.

Metta World Peace would presumably be charged with guarding Durant.

X-factor

Earl Clark had his best game as a professional on Tuesday night in San Antonio against the Spurs. The Lakers may not expect Clark to deliver another 22-point, 13-rebound performance, but it would certainly help.

Clark is about to turn 25. Through 3 1/2 seasons he hasn't really made much of an impression in the NBA, at least until Tuesday.  If there's ever going to be a time for Clark to emerge as a regular contributor, now would be it.

OKC has replaced James Harden with Kevin Martin. Coming off the bench, Martin has been a steady scorer for Oklahoma City at 15.3 points per game while shooting 44.2% from three-point range.

Outlook

The Lakers have a shot to end their losing streak. A win over the Thunder would be a big step back from the precipice. Instead, with their depleted roster, the Lakers may be more likely to lose against one of the best teams in the league, dropping their sixth in a row.

ALSO:

Earl Clark breaks out

Lakers defense is offensive

Lakers executive Jim Buss says "we're not going to panic"

Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.

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