When the Los Angeles Lakers lose a game, fans and media try to dissect the reasons why the Lakers lost.
Sometimes it's because Kobe Bryant tries to take over a game and fails to do so. Other times it's poor three-point shooting, excessive turnovers or an Andrew Bynum ejection.
Explaining tonight's loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder is simple, though. You can make all the excuses you want, but here's a novel idea:
The Oklahoma City Thunder are just better than the Lakers.
And the gap is not even close.
In fact, it's almost as wide as the eight-game lead that the Thunder has opened up against the No. 3 seed Lakers.
Lack of effort was not a big issue tonight for the Lakers. They woke up for this one. They started strong and had a 12-point lead in the second quarter.
They were doing what they did best.
The Lakers fed the ball inside to Andrew Bynum, Ramon Sessions distributed and made some good plays, Kobe Bryant scored on some difficult shots and defensively, Metta World Peace was containing Kevin Durant.
But basketball is a game of adjustments.
What separates the men from the boys in the NBA is the ability to adjust to your opponent's tendencies. That's exactly what the Thunder have done all season long, and they showed it again on Thursday night.
The Lakers continued to feed Bynum throughout the game, but Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins were stellar defensively. They would surround Bynum under the rim and force him to take impossible shots. There was nothing he could do, especially with Pau Gasol sitting throughout most of the third quarter because of foul trouble.
Thabo Sefolosha and James Harden were menaces on defense against Kobe, silencing him for over 20 minutes at one point in the game.
Ramon Sessions was also stifled in the second half. He'll be seeing Russell Westbrook in his nightmares after he put up 36 points tonight. Durant also came around and ended up scoring 21 points after struggling in the first quarter.
Finally, OKC won all the loose ball battles and owned the Lakers in transition. Whenever there was a ball unpossessed by either team, it seemed like the bounces would go the Thunder's way a majority of the time. When a team gets more than 50 percent of "50-50" balls, chances are it's more than luck. They were working harder and were confident throughout the whole game despite going down early.
This doesn't mean Los Angeles wasn't playing hard. Once again, the effort was there for the most part, but after the Thunder made their run and Gasol sat down, the Lakers' confidence was shattered. The Thunder might be the more talented team, but a more energetic response after Oklahoma City's run would've given them a better chance to win.
The Thunder acted like a shape-shifting demon tonight against the Lakers. The Lakers felt like they had them in a corner, but they made key adjustments in the paint defensively and on the wings offensively in order to come back and win. At one point, they were up by 18 points, meaning they were on the positive side of a 30-point switch.
This might've been the Lakers' final test against the Thunder in the regular season. They still have another game against them in their penultimate game of the 2011-12 regular season, but by that time Oklahoma City might have the No. 1 overall seed clinched in the West, so they may rest some players.
That being said, plenty can change from now until the Western Conference Finals, which is where the Lakers would play the Thunder if the regular season ended today and both teams advanced. As mentioned above, great teams make adjustments. Adapting to other team's tendencies doesn't always happen on the fly in a middle of a game.
It can happen throughout the course of a few months.
The Lakers are still a work in progress, with Ramon Sessions now leading the offense. It took him some time to learn the offense, and maybe now he's trying to get acclimated to the defense. Westbrook really made him look like a rookie tonight. It takes time to adjust to a new team.
That being said, the Lakers were outworked and outplayed tonight. This is now the second time they were blown out of the water against Oklahoma City. They have shown they can beat teams that are more talented than they are. They defeated Miami at home, and lost to Chicago by one point on Christmas Day.
However, the Thunder have the been Achilles' heel for the Lakers so far.
There is still time to solve the enigma that is the Oklahoma City Thunder, but time is ticking for the Lakers.
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