Most encouraging for the Lakers is that the defensive ills that plagued them early in the year are becoming more of a problem of the past. In the first 42 games, the Lakers allowed 101.5 points on average. Over the last 18 games, however, L.A. has shed 1 1/2 points from that mark and has yielded only 95.5 points per game in its past 13 wins.
Bryant, meanwhile, has reverted back to his old self of late as a scoring machine. In the last five games — four of them wins — Bryant has averaged 34.8 points on 56.9 percent shooting. But he's also maintained much of the all-around floor game that's he used recently to make the Lakers more dangerous, averaging 7.2 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 1.2 steals over that same span.
Between the Lakers' renewed defense and Bryant's continued dominance, the Thunder has to hope to avoid a repeat of the last meeting. In that one, OKC scored just 96 points and watched the Lakers run away with the game in the fourth quarter. Bryant scored 21 points with nine rebounds and 14 assists.
“Just try not to let their crowd really get into the game, which is easier said than done,” said Lakers guard Steve Blake. “It's one of the toughest places to play in the NBA. We have to somehow try to keep them off rhythm. It's not going to be easy but we can do it.”
The last time the Lakers were in town they suffered a six-point loss.
But much has changed since.
“Last time we played them in OKC, we had a good game,” said Dwight Howard. “As a team, I think we made a big step that game.”