By Randy Renner
The Thunder have thought long and hard lately about not only what happened to them in Los Angeles on Sunday but about what had been happening on the defensive end of their game since the All-Star break.
Some big steps have been taken in practice this week to correct things and it showed in Tuesday's win over the Houston Rockets. Now it's time for another step in the right direction.
"We have to buckle down and we gotta take pride in our defense," Kevin Durant said after the Thunder's shootaround session late this morning.
"We have to cover their 3-point shooters, we have to get back in transition and offensively we gotta move the ball, it got sticky there a few times in that second quarter," That's when the Thunder started losing that 18-point they'd built up early.
Eventually it was all gone and the Thunder were staring in disbelief at a 114-110 loss in Lakerland, having given up 42 points to Jodie Meeks and 20 to Pau Gasol.
"Our overall game was bad (Sunday)," admitted Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook. "As long as we play the way we played last game (against Houston), play hard, we gonna be alright."
Westbrook said he and his teammates also have to do a much better job tonight of controlling things.
"When you control the pace on both ends of the floor you put yourself in a much better position to win."
The Thunder's attention to all the details that had gotten them to the top of the NBA's standings seemed to have wandered since the All-Star break.
Perhaps the Houston game has refocused them for the final drive toward the playoffs. And even though the team has always had a 'one game at a time approach' and a 'no game is more important than another' attitude, today Durant came right out and said, "This is a big game for us."
Because the way Durant sees it, the Thunder didn't just lose to the Lakers on Sunday, they lost to them back in February too.
"They've really beaten up the last two times. We squeezed one out in LA before the All-Star break (107-103 on February 13th) but they shoulda beat us and we don't like that feeling."
It's been a while since the Thunder have had a bad feeling after a Laker game in Oklahoma City. A win tonight will be their eighth straight over that franchise inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.
But KD remembers the losses to this storied team from the first couple of seasons of Thunder basketball so, "we don't like the Lakers at all."
That last line was delivered with a smile and chuckle but deep down you have to know, losing to the Lakers, now matter how bad their record is now and no matter who is or who is not on the floor for them, is no laughing matter for Kevin Durant.
Remember later this evening we'll post the Thunder Tipoff blog about an hour before the ball goes up.