Oklahoma City Thunder v Los Angeles Lakers

Improved Lakers get measuring stick game against Thunder


There was a time not so long ago when the up-and-coming Thunder were measuring their improvement against the Lakers.

Now, it’s the Western Conference champion Thunder that are the measuring stick and the Lakers who want to see where they stand after a run of better play. The two face off Tuesday night in Oklahoma City.

It’s been well documented that after Lakers started the season an unimpressive 17-25 they have started to turn it around and gone 13-5 since. The thing is, it’s not that the Lakers are dramatically better in their last 18 overall — their point differential per 100 possessions +2.5, less than one point per 100 better than it was when they were eight games below .500.

What has changed is they got healthy, and with their key guys got to play together for a stretch modified Mike D’Antoni system, and with all that they started to find there identity. It’s taken a lot of Kobe Bryant — sometimes as scorer, sometimes as facilitator. It’s taken Steve Nash to work a lot off the ball. It’s taken Dwight Howard defending and playing more pick-and-roll. It’s been the role players finding their way.

It’s been the Lakers finally forming an identity like was expected of them in training camp (but injuries and a coaching change to a radically different system delayed that cohesion). Now that they have a sense of self the Lakers are winning the close ones they lost earlier in the season. Such as the 99-98 win over the Hawks on Sunday. John Schuhmann has all the numbers to back this up over at NBA.com — the Lakers with an identity are playing much better in the clutch than they did. They are now a .500 team.

But the Thunder are a whole new level of challenge. They are the measuring stick. They are still the favorites to make the finals out of the West, they have the best scorer in the game in Kevin Durant.

What are the keys for Tuesday night? They all revolve around the Lakers defense, because the Lakers will score some (that Kobe Bryant guy is pretty good) but the question is can they slow the Thunder at all:

1) The Lakers transition defense. Among all their many weaknesses this season, this has been the biggest — if you can run on the Lakers you can beat them. Los Angeles allows teams to shoot 58.1 percent in transition and score 1.16 points per possession, 23rd in the NBA. In the first meeting between these teams this year the Thunder shot 9-of-11 in transition and 3-of-3 from three. If this is an up-tempo game it will not be a close one.

2) Lakers pick-and-roll defense against Westbrook. It’s been improved in recent weeks but in the first meeting the Lakers struggled to stop Russell Westbrook (33 points) on this play. Westbrook has 60 points combined in the first two meetings this season. If Westbrook in particular, but also Kevin Durant and others, are allowed to probe and create off the pick-and-roll the Lakers defense will get picked apart and they will struggle.

On the other hand, when Westbrook went cold — 6-of-22 in the last meeting of these teams — the Lakers got the win. I say went cold because Westbrook completed just 3-of-8 shots inside the restricted area and I’m not sure the Lakers should count on that again. But the Lakers also turned him into a jump shooter and he struggled in that role — Dwight Howard is key here taking away the paint from Westbrook on drives.

3) Can Los Angeles slow Kevin Durant. I know, everyone writes they want to do this and he’s the league’s three-time leading scoring champ for a reason. He dropped 42 on them in a game this season. However, in the last meeting the Lakers had some success with Earl Clark — Durant was 3-of-11 with Clark on him. I’m not sure I’d want to bet on that trend continuing, but you can bet the Lakers go back to that well and if Clark can even just slow Durant and make him work for his baskets it will help.

Report: Matt Barnes attacked Derek Fisher, who’s dating Barnes’ estranged wife

Derek Fisher, Matt Barnes, Russell Westbrook

Matt Barnes is an instigator. He has been arrested for domestic violence. He also had a weird thing where he implied he was dating Rihanna only for her to claim they’d never never met.

Which is to say this is believable – that the Grizzlies forward attacked Knicks coach Derek Fisher for dating his estranged wife.

Ian Mohr of the New York Post:

Sources said Fisher was at the LA home of Gloria Govan — Barnes’ estranged wife​,​ who stars on “Basketball Wives LA” — on Saturday. Fisher and Govan have been dating for “a few months,” a source said, after Fisher filed to divorce his wife of 10 years, Candace, in March.

But when Barnes learned that Fisher was at his former home with Gloria, he drove 95 miles to LA to “beat the s–t” out of Fisher, sources said.

“Derek was in Gloria’s back yard with about 10 people having a bonfire on ​​Saturday,” said a source. “Derek’s separated from his wife and there’s a relationship with [Gloria].”

The source added, “Barnes was in Santa Barbara [at Memphis Grizzlies training camp] and heard that Fisher was in his house. He went crazy. He got in his car and went to the house and went after Fisher.”

​A source close to Fisher ​confirmed the fight but said, “Matt came after Derek but he only had a few scratches … Derek’s not going to press charges, he’s going to let it go.”

Even if Fisher – who missed practice Monday for what the Knicks called “personal reasons” – isn’t pressing charges, the NBA is investigating.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

This is a weird jurisdictional issue, especially if no criminal charges are filed. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the league punishes Barnes – a former Lakers teammate of Fisher – if it finds evidence to support the Post’s description of events.

Caron Butler details Gilbert Arenas-Javaris Crittenton gun incident

Caron Butler

Caron Butler wrote an autobiography, a recently published excerpt details his accounting of the Gilbert Arenas-Javaris Crittenton gun incident when they were with the Wizards.

An excerpt of the excerpt in The Washington Post:

When I entered the locker room, I thought I had somehow been transported back to my days on the streets of Racine. Gilbert was standing in front of his two locker stalls, the ones previously used by Michael Jordan, with four guns on display. Javaris was standing in front of his own stall, his back to Gilbert.

“Hey, MF, come pick one,” Gilbert told Javaris while pointing to the weapons. “I’m going to shoot your [expletive] with one of these.”

“Oh no, you don’t need to shoot me with one of those,” said Javaris, turning around slowly like a gunslinger in the Old West. “I’ve got one right here.”

He pulled out his own gun, already loaded, cocked it, and pointed it at Gilbert.

Other players who had been casually arriving, laughing and joking with each other, came to a sudden halt, their eyes bugging out. It took them only a few seconds to realize this was for real, a shootaround of a whole different nature. They all looked at each other and then they ran, the last man out locking the door behind him.

Somebody outside the locker room called 911. Flip Saunders was the coach back then, but he was too scared to even come into the locker room.

Click through to read the entire excerpt. It’s captivating.

Arenas is essentially retired and still spouting off silly takes.

Crittenton is currently serving a 23-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter.

Butler plays for the Kings.