Ryan Ward is a passionate and opinionated sports writer that has dedicated himself to his craft over the past five years writing about all the sports he loves from the US and overseas, from International soccer to NFL football, but with an especially passionate interest in NBA basketball and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Heading into the NBA All-Star break, there were a lot of questions surrounding the two-time defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers and their chances of being able to pull off a three-peat. Not only had the Lakers just lost three straight to the Orlando Magic, Charlotte Bobcats and most notably to the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers, but it was uncertain whether or not these losses would lead Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak to making a trade and shaking up this roster.
Fortunately, Kupchak neglected to make a deal as he felt the team could bounce back after the All-Star break and start playing at a championship caliber once again. This was a gamble to say the least as the defending champs have been under the microscope throughout the majority of the season with many people questioning the team's need to get younger, but as Kobe Bryant and company always seem to do, they bounced back with three impressive wins in a row over the Atlanta Hawks, Portland Trail Blazers and the Los Angeles Clippers.
Even though these wins were obviously a step in the right direction as the team showed signs of getting back to form, the real test was this past Sunday against Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder. With the Thunder giving the Lakers a run for their money in the first round of the playoffs last year, they have become a new threat to the defending champs as they match up quite well with this team.
The Lakers have had a size advantage whenever these two teams go head-to-head, but the Thunder has the speed that always seems to get the best of Phil Jackson's squad. The one player the drives them crazy more than any other is All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook. With his lightening quick speed and ability to score the basketball at will, the Lakers backcourt players always have trouble staying in front of the former UCLA guard as he causes major matchup problems.
This game in Oklahoma City was no different as Westbrook led all scorers with 22 points. Veteran point guard Derek Fisher was basically getting taken off the dribble every time down court by Westbrook, but even though the Lakers just couldn't stop the young All-Star they were able to use their size to their advantage once again.
With a solid performance by Andrew Bynum (16 points, 10 rebounds, 5 blocks) and Pau Gasol (18 points, 12 rebounds) leading the way in the scoring department for the defending champs, the Lakers were able to ultimately come out on top, but it was Kobe Bryant's (finished with 17 points) late game heroics that gave them the win as hit the go-ahead just over Russell Westbrook to give the Lakers the lead.
The Thunder still had some time on the clock to hit a game-tying 3-pointer in order to take the game into overtime, but both Kevin Durant and James Harden couldn't convert with pretty good looks as time expired. With both Durant and Harden missing, the Lakers went on to win their fourth straight 90-87.