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Preview: Lakers vs. Thunder

Preview: Lakers vs. Thunder
Thunder forward Kevin Durant acknowledges the efforts of a teammate after making a basket in the fourth quarter against the Memphis Grizzlies in Oklahoma City. (Sue Ogrocki / Associated Press)

The Oklahoma City Thunder (46-16) have not played their best basketball of late, still adjusting to the return of point guard Russell Westbrook from a knee injury.

The Lakers are arguably playing their worst over a three-game stretch, at least defensively.  They've given up 136 points a night to the New Orleans Pelicans, Denver Nuggets and Clippers.

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The Thunder average 105.7 a game while holding teams to 99.0.  The Lakers score 101.8 a game while yielding 107.9.

While Oklahoma City is fighting for the top seeding in the Western Conference; the Lakers are at the absolute bottom.

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The Lakers are still without Nick Young (knee), Steve Nash (nerve root irritation) and Kobe Bryant (knee). Jordan Hill has been struggling with a sore knee.

Oklahoma City will visit for the 12:30 p.m. game without Kendrick Perkins (groin). Thabo Sefolosha is day-to-day with a calf injury.

Key matchup

Kevin Durant is one of the leading candidates for the NBA's MVP award along with LeBron James.

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Through 61 games, Durant is averaging 31.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and 5.5 assists.

The Lakers have relied on Wesley Johnson as their primary defender, mostly playing at power forward. Kent Bazemore may get the initial assignment at small forward.

Regardless of who tries to check Durant, the Lakers are going to have their work cut out for them.

Offensively, Bazemore has averaged 15 points a game while shooting 46% from the field and 42.9% from three-point range.

Johnson is shooting 43.8% and 37.0%, respectively, for 9.2 points a game.

X-factor

The offense of Westbrook and Durant is a lot for any team, but the Thunder rely heavily on Serge Ibaka defensively.

Ibaka is also an offensive threat, at 15.1 points a game while shooting 54.8% from the field.  Ibaka also blocks 2.56 shots while collecting 8.7 rebounds a night.

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Pau Gasol suffered a minor sprained ankle on Friday in Denver against the Nuggets, but he's expected to play on Sunday.

While the Lakers need his 17.7 points a game, the team hasn't exactly been winning regularly, regardless of what Gasol scores.

It's on the defensive end that the Lakers have floundered most.

Outlook

The Lakers are gaining in the chase for a top pick in the 2014 NBA draft. The Thunder should be able help that process on Sunday afternoon.

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

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