Down Three Starters, Thunder Face Lakers

By Randy Renner

Time was when a Thunder-Lakers game got the blood flowing and boiling like no other.

Times change.

The Lakers, from the starry land of Hollywood, are a starless bunch these days. Injuries, poor planning and the death of their iconic owner have left the franchise stuck in mud.

The Thunder still have some of the same stars on the roster that were there during some of those classic games of a few season ago but only one of those stars will play tonight.

Russell Westbrook, the kid who grew up in Lakerland, is now the face of the Thunder and the team's on-court leader. Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka are forced to watch and cheer lead from the bench because of injuries. Nick Collison and Andre Roberson can just watch now also have been felled by sprained ankles.

All four Thunder regulars are more than likely out for the rest of the regular season, Durant could very well be done until training camp next season, while hope remains that Ibaka, Collison and Roberson will be back in time for a first round playoff series.

Tonight though it's the Lakers and the Thunder need to focus in on this and make sure there are no slip ups, the schedule gets much more difficult beginning tomorrow night in San Antonio.

Westbrook had been credited with a triple-double on Sunday against Miami but on Monday the NBA took away one of his rebounds and that took away his 10th triple-double of the season, leaving his stat line with 12 points, 17 assists and 9 rebounds instead of 10.

Westbrook is averaging NBA bests of 31.6 points and 11.3 assists since the All-Star break to go with 9.7 rebounds per game. The Thunder have won three straight overall 19 of 21 at home.

"I'm just trying to find my teammates. A lot of teams our doubling and putting a lot of pressure on me, my job is to find my guys and get them open shots," Westbrook said. "We have a lot of guys down, a lot of guys keep getting hurt. We just need to keep coming out and keep competing."

Westbrook has been looking for newcomer Enes Kanter more and more. Kanter (ankle) sat out against the Hawks before returning to post 27 points and 12 rebounds Sunday, with Westbrook assisting on six of Kanter's 12 field goals.

Kanter is averaging 21.1 points and 12.1 boards in his last seven games.

"He has the ability to score around the basket," Brooks said of Kanter, acquired from Utah before the trade deadline. "We're implementing new sets by the day. ... He's done a good job and Russell has done a good job of finding him."

The Thunder's other young bigs, Steven Adams and Mitch McGary have also played well and with the injuries to Ibaka and Collison the'll get big minutes the rest of the regular season.

The Thunder are 15-4 in their last 19 against the Lakers - including playoffs - after taking this season's first two meetings in Los Angeles. Westbrook had 31 points, five rebounds and 10 assists in a 104-103 victory Dec. 19 before sitting out with a facial fracture in a 108-101 win March 1.

Los Angeles has been outscored by an average of 18.4 points during a five-game road losing streak in the regular-season series.

Snapping that skid could prove difficult for a Lakers team that's dropped four straight and 15 of 16 on the road.

The Lakers had lost four in a row overall before beating Philadelphia 101-87 on Sunday. Jeremy Lin scored a season-high 29 points as Los Angeles shot 48.1 percent for its highest mark in 13 games.

"Obviously, I would love to be in the starting lineup, but nothing's guaranteed at this point," said Lin, who has come off the bench in his last 25 games. "I mean, (68) games into the season, I'm just trying to stay focused on doing what I'm supposed to do when I get in there."

Lin, averaging 11.1 points, has scored a combined 32 on 12-of-21 shooting against the Thunder this season. Lin is expected to start tonight against the Thunder.

We'll have updates from shootaround and from the arena later today here on the website. Be sure to check out our Twitter feed page for live updates.