Commentary | The Los Angeles Lakers will face the Oklahoma City Thunder on the road in a game that won't mean much at its face value -- it's a regular season game in December.
But for the Lakers, who have had a season's worth of drama in the span of just 19 games, this game matters. They don't have an identity at this point. Are they the team that beat up the Dallas Mavericks in all facets of the game in late November, or are they the team that has consistently beat themselves with costly turnovers and allowing second-chance points?
The Lakers haven't done anything substantial in terms of asserting themselves as belonging in the upper echelon of the league as they are billed to be. The road hasn't been kind to them at this point as they are just 2-5 away from Staples Center. Oklahoma City has been a thorn in their side for the better part of two seasons, with OKC last handing L.A. an embarrassing 4-1 series defeat in the Western Conference Semifinals last season.
Kobe Bryant and the new-look Lakers under Mike D'Antoni aren't ready to pass the torch to the Thunder, and that makes Friday's contest a statement game.
Should the Lakers lose, the talk around town will be more of the same rhetoric -- that this team hasn't come together yet, these things take time, require patience and so on. The fact of the matter is, the time to win is now, despite the absence of Pau Gasol and Steve Nash and the fact that the Thunder are one of the hottest teams in the league in the midst of a six-game winning streak.
Winning the game in Oklahoma City could signify that the Lakers have turned the corner from their uninspiring start nearly one-quarter of the way through the 2012-13 NBA season. They need this win more than the Thunder do. We know who Durant & Co. are.
But who are the Lakers? The answer to that key question may come on Friday night.
Michael C. Jones covers the Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA. He contributes regularly to SB Nation and Examiner. He is also the Editor of Sports Out West.
Catch up with him on Twitter @MikeJonesTweets