The (mostly) young Oklahoma City Thunder have been the most consistent team in the Western Conference this season.
In a meeting between two of the top scorers in the league, Kobe Bryant and the L.A. Lakers take on the visiting Kevin Durant and the Western Conference-leading Oklahoma City Thunder (38-12) in Thursday’s best game.
In their previous meeting on February 23, Durant — second in the league in scoring with 27.8 points — scored 33 points to help his team to a 100-85 victory, while Bryant — averaging a league-best 28.3 points — needed 24 shots to score 24 points.
Derek Fisher will make his first return to the Staples Center as a member of the Thunder and should expect a rousing ovation from the Staples Center crowd after spending the past 4 1/2 years there (along with the first eight seasons of his 16-year career).
The Lakers (31-19) are 20-4 at home this season — tied for the second best mark in the conference — but two of the four losses have come over the past two weeks against the Jazz and the Grizzlies.
Drama has been brewing of late as Mike Brown benched both Bryant — a curiously timed decision that was met with disbelief by teammate Metta World Peace in the fourth quarter against the Grizzlies – and Andrew Bynum against the Warriors for jacking up an ill-advised 3-pointer early in the third quarter.
Though Bryant downplayed the drama and then went out in the next game and hit a couple of game-clinching shots to defeat the Warriors, Bynum apparently does not plan to stop shooting 3-pointers.
Ramon Sessions has made his mark as the new starting point guard, averaging 13.3 points on 52.8% shooting and 6.3 assists. He has also gone to the free throw line 38 times in just seven games. By comparison, Fisher had gone to the line a total of 53 times in 43 games with the Lakers this season.
After a poor stretch in which they lost four of seven games, the Thunder (38-12) are back on track with a four-game winning streak during which they have averaged a robust 118.75 points.
Russell Westbrook has arguably played his best basketball in March, averaging 25.9 points on 49.3% shooting, 5.5 assists and most importantly, just 2.7 turnovers. He is the fifth-leading scorer in the league with an average of 24.2 points.
James Harden has been on an absolute tear, averaging 21.7 points on 71% shooting over the last three games.
A new team has not cured Fisher of his cold shooting. He is averaging just 3.8 points on 22.7% shooting since joining the Thunder.