The Los Angeles Lakers are riding a five-game losing streak, and on Friday night they will take on the Oklahoma City Thunder without Pau Gasol or Dwight Howard at their disposal. Can the Lakers get back on track?
The Los Angeles Lakers have yet to record a win in 2013, and if they want to break their five-game losing streak on Friday night they will need to take down Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder. This is the first meeting between the Lakers and Thunder this season, but the teams are headed in completely different directions. The Thunder are emerging as a top contender, while the Lakers are dropping to the fringes of the playoff race in the Western Conference.
Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka have helped OKC build up the top efficiency differential (+10.4 pts / 100 poss) in the association and the No. 2 overall record (27-8). The Thunder are 9-5 on the road this season, but on Monday night they suffered their worst loss of the season when Bradley Beal nailed a jumper to lift the short-handed Wizards to victory. Durant wasn't pleased after the game, so expect the Thunder to come out focused on Friday night.
The Lakers are now five games under .500, and they can't get stops on defense. The team should be disappointed in their No. 21 defensive efficiency ranking, as it's hurting their chances to win and it comes off as a sign that Dwight Howard isn't quite himself. However, executive vice president Jim Buss still says the team would love to re-sign Howard this off-season, and he put the chances at 95 percent that it will happen.
In injury news, Howard (shoulder) and Jordan Hill (hip) and Pau Gasol (concussion) will all miss the game. That means Earl Clark will get another opportunity to shine. Clark scored a season-high 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting and grabbed 13 rebounds on Wednesday night in a loss to the Spurs, and Kobe Bryant called Clark's performance "phenomenal."
The contest will be televised nationally on ESPN at 10:30 p.m. ET as the second half of a Friday night doubleheader. According to Odds Shark, the Thunder are 5½-point favorites as the road team (!) and the over/under is set at 217 points.