Lakers’ task gets tougher as series shifts to Oklahoma City
Reporting from Oklahoma City -- The Lakers’ trip to OKC might be anything but OK.
It will be incredibly loud in front of a crowd that actually stands up beyond just the national anthem.
It will be another test against a testy team that doesn’t seem to care about the Lakers’ title-repeat aspirations.
And if it’s anything like their trip there a few weeks ago, it could get real messy real quick.
The Lakers own a 2-0 lead in the first round against Oklahoma City, but that didn’t stop them from hunting and pecking for answers going into Game 3 on Thursday at Ford Center.
The big-picture numbers overwhelmingly favor the Lakers: A top-seeded team has never lost to an eighth-seeded team after winning the first two games in a best-of-seven NBA series.
Yet the Lakers are more interested in different numbers, those from two of their forwards — Ron Artest and Lamar Odom.
Odom is averaging 5.5 points and shooting 30.8% this series. Artest is also way off target, averaging six points and shooting 23.8%.
Artest has done a solid job of defending Thunder forward Kevin Durant (28 points, 38% shooting, six turnovers a game) but has become a one-man wrecking ball on offense.
He is two of 14 from three-point range and takes shots that are possession-killers, taking them either too early in the shot clock or simply missing when he’s wide open.
Will Artest find his stroke soon?
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson paused when asked about it after Wednesday’s practice. Then he smiled.
“Good question,” he said before motioning to the court, where Artest shot a slew of three-pointers by himself. “Hopefully that will help him a little bit.”
Artest didn’t seem concerned: “I just hope I continue to play defense.”
Jackson was more demanding of Odom, saying he had to “give us an imprint in the ballgame.”
Odom has made four of 13 shots and has as many turnovers (four) as assists in the series. Hisplaying time has tumbled to 26 minutes a game, down from 31.5 in the regular season.
“I’ve just got to get myself going offensively,” he said. “Find my shot, play in my rhythm, stay in my space, my comfort zone.”
The Lakers will try to pound the ball down low in Game 3 despite an increasingly aggressive Thunder defense that blocked 17 shots in Game 2, a postseason record for a Lakers opponent. Serge Ibaka had a career-high seven, Durant had four and six other players had at least one, lending credence to Jackson’s decree that the Thunder blocks shots by committee.
The Thunder led the league in blocked shots during the regular season, averaging 5.86, but its Game 2 showing was staggering.
Kobe Bryant had five of his shots blocked. Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum were each stuffed three times. At least Adam Morrison and DJ Mbenga didn’t have any of their shots blocked but, uh, they didn’t play.
“They’re the youngest team in the NBA,” Odom said. “We expect them to play above the rim.”
When all is said and done, history clearly favors the Lakers.
They are 39-1 all-time when winning the first two games of a best-of-seven series, their lone blemish coming in the 1969 NBA Finals against Boston.
There are worries, however, about the impact of the Thunder crowd, which treated every regular-season contest like Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
The Lakers found themselves fighting the Thunder and the fans last month in a 91-75 loss in which Bryant had nine turnovers and Gasol had nine points, his second-lowest output this season.
The Lakers expect the Thunder to get an emotional boost in the first quarter, which the Lakers owned the first two games, 53-31.
“Their fans are vicious,” Bynum said. “We’ve got to block that out.”
Bryant needs 17 points to break Jerry West’s career playoff scoring record for the Lakers. Bryant has 4,441 points after his 39-point outburst in Game 2. … Oklahoma City Coach Scott Brooks was selected NBA coach of the year. Jackson did not receive any votes. … Mbenga did not play in Game 2 even though he was cleared to play with protective eyewear after sustaining a retinal injury in Saturday’s practice.