Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
A team meeting last week led to a Los Angeles Lakers victory against the Utah Jazz, but the legitimacy of any turnaround to the season will be tested against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Sparking the Los Angeles Lakers this season has failed in a number of ways. Neither a coaching change nor the return of injured stars has brought a significant boost in morale, but a team meeting before the Lakers' last outing, a big win against the Utah Jazz, might be a start to something.
Beating Utah wasn't such a spark either, but it could be legitimized as the beginnings of such if Mike D'Antoni's squad can use that game as ignition. A victory in Staples Center Sunday afternoon against the NBA's best, the Oklahoma City Thunder, could be more telling of things to come.
The Thunder's ability behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to use any nugget as motivation will be a major roadblock. And having split their last four games, there won't be any storyline of this being a trap game for Scott Brooks' team.
Oklahoma City's ability to use an attacking offense and an aggressive defense in complementary fashion, as usual, will come into play.
The Lakers (18-25) could only wish for such successful defense, let alone the ability to turn its success there into an even more frightening offensive force. The bad news for Los Angeles is that it is has the second-worst turnover differential in the league. The Lakers force few turnovers and give the ball up 15.4 times per game.
Only the Thunder (34-10) and the Houston Rockets give it up more.
Taking care of the ball and hitting transition jumpers -- Bryant's passing helped against the Jazz -- rather than having them clang off the rim will be big for the Lakers. If turnovers and long rebounds get Oklahoma City in transition, the younger, springy legs of the Thunder will hurt Los Angeles even more than they would in a halfcourt battle.
Will the Lakers keep it up?
Against the Jazz, the Lakers allowed 42 percent shooting and dominated the rebounding totals against a big, athletic team. It was a good sign that the effort level, especially from Dwight Howard, was high.
Furthermore, Los Angeles won the three-point shooting battle, hitting 9-of-21 from deep and holding Utah to 3-of-14. To beat the Thunder, the Lakers will have to keep that hot shooting up while hampering a team that is tied for first in the NBA at 38.8 percent shooting from three-point range for the season.
The starting lineups will create a number of crossmatches, especially in the backcourt. At point guard, Steve Nash will probably start on the offensively-limited Thabo Sefolosha, who himself will likely guard Kobe Bryant. It's likely Bryant will start off guarding Westbrook rather than Nash.
That is where the transition game could hurt the Lakers in yet another way.
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
Odds: Oklahoma City opened as a three-point favorite.