30-31. The Lakers lost to The Thunder on Tuesday after winning 13 of 18 and getting back to .500 for the first time in 2013. It was a big game for LA as a win over the Thunder would be impressive in its own right (even more so because the Thunder were at home) and because it would have put them over .500 for the first time this season. Then the game started and we were reminded almost instantly why the Lakers were a .500 team in the first place. The Thunder especially Russell Westbrook lit up the Lakers in the first half on their way to 71 points. The Lakers struggled except for Kobe who tried (despite his injury to his arm) to keep them somewhat close and they trailed by 16 at the half.
The Lakers did show some fight in the second half and Steve Nash brought them within six but missed a three-pointer that would have brought them within 3. And just like that the lead was in double digits again. For the Thunder it was just another game and it may in fact have been a playoff preview. But if tonight was any indication Thunder-Lakers will be a short series. I haven’t mentioned Kevin Durant or Dwight Howard yet. Durant was pretty good by his standards (pretty great by any one else’s) scoring 26 on 9-22 from the field and grabbing 9 boards and dishing out 5 assists. Dwight was a complete no-show offensively and looked as bad as he’s looked all season going only 1-7 from the field and scoring just six points. Interestingly, Dwight had the best plus/minus of any Laker starter at -7 and grabbed 16 rebounds including 5 offensive boards. I’ll get to Dwight later. What stood out to me watching the game was how terrible the Thunder made the Laker’s perimeter defense look. Russ, Durant and Reggie Jackson embarrassed their defenders and got to the rim with ease. Dwight wasn’t as bad defensively as he was on offense but he couldn’t help their defense much. Oh yeah and the Thunder only had 2 turnovers the entire game. It could have been that they were just on a roll but the Lakers inability to force turnovers or pressure the Thunder in any way helped too. The Lakers scored on offense thanks to Kobe’s greatness and hot three-point shooting. Steve Nash from 3 is relible but Metta and every one else probably isn’t but whatever it’s cool. Tomorrow night the Lakers play The Hornets and can redeem themselves. I’m not mad at this loss but I will be mad if they lose tomorrow. Their hot streak is nice but they are not on The Thunder’s level.
Now we can talk Dwight. I’m certain he’ll get ripped for his performance tonight, as it was one of the worst of his Laker career. But it was clear out there (as its been all season) that he’s not healthy. Or in shape. Or confident. Or in tune with his teammates. And I don’t mean to rip Dwight either these are the facts. For the most part Dwight has been a pretty good player this season but he has been a shell of player he was in Orlando. Dwight was the second best player in the league in 2011 and now he’s a borderline all-star (in terms of merit). I’m interested in the Laker’s quest to make the playoffs and all but I believe its secondary to Dwight’s health. Dwight is a free agent at the end of the season and if I’m the Lakers I would like to see some progress from Dwight physically. Dwight’s (back) injury was serious and he deserves credit for coming back early but he hasn’t progressed much since the season started. His timing is a bit better but physically he’s just not the same guy. Recently Dwight was quoted saying that he used to be able to play 40 minutes a game and not get tired but now can only go for 10 minutes at a time. If Dwight doesn’t show us something these next couple of months the Lakers will be forced to make a decision based on hope. The thing is, they probably need Dwight even if he’s just a shell. Pau Gasol will make the Lakers better when he returns (especially if he can return to form himself) and Kobe will still put people in their seats. A healthy Dwight Howard will make the Lakers a title contender and Mitch Kupchak knows this. That possibility will make it hard for the Lakers to not sign Dwight (I wouldn’t blame them either). A playoff run would be nice but Dwight’s health is first on my mind, and I’m sure its first on the members of the Laker’s front office as well.