How L.A. Lakers Can Shut Down OKC Thunder Star Kevin Durant

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistSeptember 17, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 29:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder cuts between Metta World Peace #15 and Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on March 29, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

In the interest of being entirely accurate, it's worth noting that no one can shut Kevin Durant down entirely.

He made nearly 55 percent of his field goals and averaged 30.6 points in those five NBA Finals games against the Miami Heat, games in which he faced the defensive likes of LeBron James and Shane Battier.

And it goes without saying the Los Angeles Lakers don't have tools like that on the wing, so slowing KD down—much less stopping him—will be a tall order.

Yet also entirely necessary.

Durant didn't score 40 a game against the Lakers in last season's conference semifinals, but he quietly beat them with incredible efficiency, shooting at a 52-percent clip (to Kobe Bryant's 43 percent).

The Lakers series wasn't an aberration for Durant either—he shot the ball at just under 52 percent for the duration of the postseason—something Bryant hasn't done, or really even come close to doing.

For a perimeter scorer, that kind of marksmanship is scary.

Both in general and to the Lakers in particular. While L.A. can count on an all-around improved offense this season, the fact remains that the Oklahoma City Thunder averaged 7.3 more points per game in the 2012 playoffs.

If Lakers fans think Steve Nash is some kind of silver bullet, they'll be sorely disappointed. If they think Dwight Howard is going to step out to the three-point line to assert his dominant defense against Durant's jumper, they must think he really is Superman.

Los Angeles still needs an answer for Kevin Durant (which isn't to say it ever found one for Russell Westbrook).

The first step will be ball denial, something Metta World Peace is strong enough to pull off at least in theory. It's not easy to deny Durant either the ball or floor space because he really can shoot from anywhere, off the dribble or assisted.

Given Devin Ebanks' length and athleticism, you'd think his only job this season would be to study tape of Kevin Durant and transform himself into the KD-stopper. He might actually get some minutes.

Newly acquired Earl Clark could be even more deserving of the assignment.

The 6'10" forward is still just 24 and doesn't exactly have "scorer" written all over him. He's lasted in the league because he can defend, and Los Angeles might have just stumbled upon a gem if Clark can be trained in the arts of stopping Durant.

He certainly has the physical profile and instincts, but he'll need to round out his game if he wants consistent minutes behind World Peace and a shot at KD.

You really don't want Kobe taking on Durant for any number of reasons—he's really not big enough, shouldn't be risking fouls and doesn't need to be tired out on the defensive end.

There's something to be said for an "everything but the kitchen sink" kind of approach the Dallas Mavericks threw at LeBron James in the 2011 NBA Finals.

By mixing up tactics and keeping James guessing, the Mavs had at least some success in forcing him out of his comfort zone. 

The Lakers can only hope for the same against Durant. Harassing him with different help defenders and alternating between double-teams and one-on-one coverage could at least force OKC's three-time scoring champion to make some decisions.

You'd rather him thinking and trying to make plays than getting to the shots he wants and scoring with relative ease.

It's all easier said than done. Even though Durant isn't known for his passing, he keeps the ball moving when he needs to, and he has plenty of help in Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Slowing Durant down is just one battle for the Lakers.

But it's a battle they have to win.