Thunder-Lakers Preview

If the Los Angeles Lakers can just shake the memory of the

disastrous final two minutes of Game 2, they’ll find plenty of

reasons in the first 46 minutes to be encouraged about their

chances this weekend against Oklahoma City.

After blowing a seven-point lead and the chance to steal

homecourt advantage from the powerful Thunder on Wednesday night,

the third-seeded Lakers’ fate will be decided rapidly at Staples

Center, with back-to-back games Friday and Saturday. Oklahoma City

leads the series 2-0, and could earn its second straight trip to

the Western Conference finals Saturday night.

The Lakers have now lost four of their last five playoff games

since taking a 3-1 lead in the first round against Denver, but they

imposed their favored style on Game 2 until their late collapse.

Los Angeles locked down Russell Westbrook, limited Kevin Durant

with double-teams and thwarted the Thunder’s transition game,

holding Oklahoma City to its lowest scoring total of the entire

season.

None of it helped when the Lakers allowed nine unanswered points

to close the 77-75 loss, but at least they know shutting down the

Thunder is possible.

”I don’t think we have many pieces to pick up,” center Andrew

Bynum said after the Lakers’ workout Thursday in El Segundo. ”We

know exactly how to defend them now, and offensively, we (have to)

make them pay for being aggressive. … They protected their home

court. It’s the playoffs, and obviously we let one slip, but we’ve

got another one coming up.”

Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks emerged from the thriller

excited about the resilience of his young team, which improved to

6-0 in the postseason. In their third playoff run together, the

Thunder have figured out how to keep their cool when their

opponents are losing it – even Bryant and his small core of

championship-tested teammates.

”You’ve got to understand, the team that we’re playing,

Oklahoma, they’ve been playing together a long time, much longer

than we have,” said Kobe Bryant, one of four Lakers left from the

2010 title team. ”We have guys who have a great deal more

experience than they do, but in terms of playing together, they

have more experience, so we have to constantly keep the lines of

communication open, almost every play really.”

The Lakers managed just four points in the final 6:43, all on

baskets by Bynum. Bryant missed his final five shots. Metta World

Peace made multiple mistakes. Pau Gasol didn’t even take a shot,

and Steve Blake missed the biggest one of all: That open 3-pointer

in the corner with 3 seconds left.

If not for the Lakers’ game effort in Game 2, overconfidence

would appear to be Oklahoma City’s toughest opponent so far in the

playoffs.

”We’ve had some success (in) this playoffs so far, but it

doesn’t really guarantee the next game results if you don’t get the

good effort and good energy and teamwork,” Brooks said Thursday

before the Thunder flew to the West Coast. ”You have to have

confidence in it, but you can’t become complacent and cocky with

it. You have to understand that you have to respect your opponent,

and they’re going to throw a lot of things at us, and you have to

be prepared.”

Although the Thunder’s offense was less than impressive in Game

2, Bryant has been unable to assert control against Oklahoma City’s

defense.

Durant, James Harden and Thabo Sefolosha have taken turns

guarding Bryant in Brooks’ plan to keep Kobe uncomfortable by

throwing multiple defensive looks at him, sometimes on each

possession. So far, it’s working: The NBA’s second-leading scorer

behind Durant has managed just 20 points in each of the first two

games on 16-for-43 shooting, and Bryant is a dismal 1 for 9 on

3-pointers.

”There’s not a lot of 6-10 guys that you would throw on Kobe,”

Brooks said of Durant, who played solid defense on Bryant in the

fourth quarter of Game 2. ”He’s a guy that can guard multiple

positions, and it’s definitely a different look when you’re used to

a guy 6-3, 6-4, and all of a sudden 6-10 comes on you.”

Although Bryant isn’t at his game-changing peak, he has been

awfully good at home in recent months. Yet Bryant and the veteran

Lakers also might be running out of energy. When the back-to-back

weekend ends, the Lakers will have played 11 playoff games in 21

days, a product of their inability to finish off Denver

quickly.

”The reality of it is we were probably a little tired, not to

use that as an excuse,” Lakers coach Mike Brown said. ”We went

seven (games in the first round), they went four. We should have

gone 4-0 and not had to deal with that, if that was an issue. I

thought we were a lot more physical, a lot more in tune in that

second game. … At this point in the playoffs, if we can’t sustain

it, we don’t deserve to win.”

The Lakers were among the NBA’s best home teams for the first

three months of the shortened season, but stumbled late,

culminating in a lifeless loss to the Nuggets in Game 5 last round.

The Lakers and their crowd rebounded for an energetic victory in

Game 7, but Los Angeles also lost two second-round home games last

season against Dallas.

Los Angeles prefers a slower tempo, both for its lack of team

speed and its preference for playing a half-court game built around

7-footers Bynum and Gasol. Brooks also said the Lakers used

elements of the triangle offense in Game 2, going back to the

principles of the offensive scheme promoted by 11-time NBA champion

coach Phil Jackson.

”They were throwing a lot of that in their sets, so we were

ready for that,” Brooks said. ”Our guys did a good job defending

it.”

AP Sports Writer Jeff Latzke in Oklahoma City contributed to

this report.