Having dominated this series in recent years, the Lakers look to avoid a letdown versus the lowly Thunder as they continue a season-high, seven-game trip Tuesday night.
Trailing Cleveland by 1 1/2 games for the NBA’s best record, this would seem to be an inopportune time for Los Angeles (55-14) to hit the road for an extended period. However, Atlanta is the only team with a winning record that the Lakers will play during their trip, which includes matchups with Detroit, New Jersey, Charlotte and Milwaukee.
Oklahoma City (20-50) is the worst club Los Angeles will face, and the Lakers have taken full advantage of facing the Thunder franchise of late. They’ve won eight straight in the series since a 117-101 loss at Seattle on Nov. 5, 2006.
This will be the third and last matchup between the teams this season. Los Angeles’ victories in the first two contests came by an average of 10.5 points.
The Thunder are the only Western Conference club the Lakers will play during this extended stretch away from Staples Center. Los Angeles opened the trip with a 117-109 win over Chicago on Saturday, giving it three straight road victories after losing its previous three.
The Lakers trailed the Bulls by 16 in the second quarter and 14 at the half, but a strong effort from their bench helped them rally. Jordan Farmar scored 13 points to lead Los Angeles’ reserves, who contributed 27 points.
“It’s a long trip and we’re going to need our second unit to play the way they’re capable of on nights when it’s kind of a seesaw battle,” Lakers star Kobe Bryant said. “Our depth is one of our greatest features.”
Bryant had 28 points Saturday but shot 10-for-25. He’s averaging 35.0 points while shooting 55.3 percent (26-for-47) in the two games versus the Thunder this season.
Oklahoma City swingman Kevin Durant averaged 31.5 points, 10.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 3.5 steals in those contests. He’s coming off his best game since returning after missing seven straight with an ankle injury, scoring 30 points in the Thunder’s 97-90 win over Minnesota on Sunday. Durant shot 13-for-23 while adding eight rebounds and five assists.
“Like I told him before our last game, ‘Kevin, you can fill up the stat sheet, but you don’t have to worry about your points to help us win,’” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. “‘You can rebound, you can defend and you can pass the ball.’”
The Thunder went 5-2 without Durant, but are 2-3 since the 20-year-old star rejoined the lineup. Durant shot 43.2 percent in four games prior to facing the Timberwolves.
“I’ve been feeling good ever since I’ve been back,” Durant said. “I’ve been feeling great. It’s just a matter of time before they go in.”
Durant, the rookie of the year last season, is complemented by first-year point guard Russell Westbrook. The fourth pick in the 2008 draft, Westbrook is averaging 15.7 points, 5.1 assists and 4.8 rebounds.
Westbrook finished with only seven points against Minnesota, but added 10 assists. Oklahoma City has 47 assists in its last two games after recording 57 in its previous four contests.