There once was a time when the Los Angeles Lakers were the popular pick to supplant the Thunder as the Western Conference champion.
Yes, that was in October. It just feels like an eon ago.
As the two teams meet for the second time Friday inside Staples Center, the Thunder remains atop the Western Conference standings while the new look Lakers come in limping.
Even after acquiring Steve Nash and Dwight Howard over the offseason, the Lakers are just 15-20, losers of five straight. Once lauded as a surefire championship team, the Lakers are now struggling to make the playoffs.
The Thunder, however, refuse to pour fuel on top of the fire. Russell Westbrook, for example, said there isn't any extra motivation to further embarrass the Lakers after they garnered much of the offseason headlines for assembling a super team.
“Our job is not to worry about them,” Westbrook said. “Our job is to worry about our team that we have here and the things that we can do to continue to improve.”
Westbrook went on to say Friday's game should be competitive.
“It'll be a good game,” Westbrook said. “They're coming off a loss and we beat them the first time so they're definitely going to be ready to play the next time.”
NICK COLLISON WEIGHS IN ON PROSPECTS OF BASKETBALL IN SEATTLE
Thunder forward Nick Collison, who was drafted 12th overall by the Seattle SuperSonics in 2003, expressed mixed feelings in response to news that the Sacramento Kings could be on the verge of relocating to Seattle.
“It's not a done deal yet,” Collison said. “Those things are very complicated. So I'll wait and see like everybody else. If it happens, I'll be happy for Seattle fans and feel for Sacramento fans, because I've seen first-hand how hard it is for fans to lose a team. If we go there, it'll be fun for me to see some old friends. But it definitely probably would be a weird feeling.”
Collison and Kevin Durant are the only remaining members of the Thunder who played in Seattle.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
Starting with Friday's game against the Lakers, the Thunder will play nine of its next 10 away from Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“We knew going into the season that we were going to have a lot of games in January,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “We had to take care of our home court. We had a few games that we haven't played well lately, but there's other teams that want to win just as bad as we do … We're ready for the challenge and we're going to embrace it and we're going to have some fun with it.”
COULD LIGGINS SEE MORE PLAYING TIME?
In each of the past two games, Brooks has played seldom-used swingman DeAndre Liggins meaningful minutes.
Liggins, though, has not disappointed. He provided a spark in each of his two appearances and scored six points with four rebounds, one steal and one assist in 17 minutes.
Could he now be a part of the rotation?
“He's getting some minutes. They're not always going to be there. They're not always going to be consistent,” Brooks said. “But I take a lot of pride in all of our guys being ready when they're called on and the last couple of games he was ready. And I'm not going to hesitate to do it again.”
According to public records, Westbrook has closed on an Edmond home. The sale price was $1.9 million. … In two games at this year's D-League Showcase, rookie Jeremy Lamb, currently on assignment with the Tulsa 66ers, has averaged 25.5 points, including a 33-point performance Thursday. Andy Rautins, a training camp invitee this year with the Thunder and member of the 66ers, won the showcase's 3-point contest. Dominique Sutton, also a member of the 66ers, won the slam dunk contest. … The Thunder faces a Lakers team Friday night that has lost five straight and six out of their past seven. L.A. has allowed 111 points per game during its five-game skid.
By Darnell Mayberry