Thunder-Lakers Preview

The Associated Press

No matter if the Los Angeles Lakers believe they're a better team after airing their personal grievances, they have a long way to go in order to catch the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Los Angeles looks to avoid a 10th loss in 12 meetings versus Oklahoma City as the league-best Thunder try to complete a winning six-game road trip Saturday.

The Lakers (18-25) held a players-only meeting prior to Wednesday's 106-93 loss at Memphis that apparently included heated outbursts from Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard.

They put their differences aside, though, and ended a four-game losing streak with a 102-84 home victory over Utah on Friday.

"After the Memphis game, we put the past behind us," Howard said. "We've got to sustain it for the rest of the season. We have to play together and play for each other."

Bryant, who reportedly admitted during the meeting he can be difficult to play with, seemed to take the team-first concept to heart. He attempted a season low-tying 10 shots, matched his season low with 14 points, dished out 14 assists - his most since notching 14 in a loss to Phoenix on Nov. 14, 2010 - and finished one rebound short of a triple-double.

"We're bonding together and we're communicating with each other very well," said Bryant, averaging 35.8 points versus the Thunder in the last five meetings, including the postseason. "You can't just sweep things under the rug all the time.

"It's not about showing we've turned the corner. It's about doing it."

Howard complemented Bryant's effort with 17 points and 13 rebounds after totaling 15 points and 13 boards over his previous three games while battling a nagging shoulder injury.

"Those are our two big guns," said Steve Nash, who scored 15 points, "and when they are symbiotic like that we are a special team."

Oklahoma City has looked like one all season, including victories in both meetings with the Lakers.

Kevin Durant scored 36 points and Russell Westbrook added 33 to help overcome 35 from Bryant in a 114-108 win Dec. 7. Durant scored 42 and Westbrook had 27 with 10 assists as Howard and Pau Gasol sat out with injuries in Oklahoma City's 116-101 road victory Jan. 11.

The Thunder (34-10) have won nine of the last 11 meetings with the Lakers, including a five-game victory in last season's Western Conference semifinals.

Oklahoma City enters this matchup having won eight of 10, including Friday's 105-95 victory at Sacramento to improve to 3-2 on their trip.

Durant is averaging 35.6 points on the trek, including a career-high 52 in an overtime win over Dallas in the opener. He was limited to 24 on Friday but attempted only 12 shots, making seven, and grabbed 11 rebounds.

Westbrook also scored well below his season average with 18 points, but he was the catalyst for the offense with a season-high 14 assists while also contributing on the defensive end.

"He's one of the best in the league," said Brooks, whose team averages a league-best 105.9 points and is among the leaders in points off turnovers (18.6 per game).

"We're an aggressive team. We play with force on the offensive end, but it always starts with our defense. When he defends, everybody defends and we're a good team on the offensive end."

Westbrook is averaging 27.5 points in the last four regular-season games versus the Lakers, while Durant is averaging 33.0 in the last six.

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