The Los Angeles Lakers take on the Oklahoma City Thunder Saturday night for their second game in as many days in the Western Conference semifinal series.
The Lakers got a 99-96 victory in game three last night to cut the Thunder's series lead to 2-1 but they will need another near perfect game tonight to even up the series.
In game three, Los Angeles hit 41 of their 42 free throws, including a perfect 18 for 18 from Kobe Bryant. Bryant also had 14 of his 36 points in the fourth quarter as the Lakers narrowly edged the Thunder.
Because of the madness happening at the Staples Center this weekend with the Kings, Lakers and Clippers all in the playoffs, Los Angeles and Oklahoma City have to play games on back-to-back nights. That could help the Thunder.
Oklahoma City is a far younger team, especially their stars. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are 23, only Nick Collison, Derek Fisher and Nazr Mohammed are over the age of 30 and so the back-to-back games shouldn't affect them as much.
For the Lakers, Bryant, Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace, Steve Blake and Matt Barnes are all over the age of 30, and all of those players have extra miles on them. In his career, Bryant has played 218 playoff games, the equivalent of more than two and a half extra seasons, and the rest of the Lakers vets are in a similar situation.
If Oklahoma City can knock off the Lakers it may signal a changing of the guard in the Western Conference. The Lakers have been one of the top three seeds in the West in each of the last five seasons. They won back-to-back titles in 2008 and 2009 as well as making the finals in 2007.
But the Thunder are on the rise, Durant, Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha, and Kendrick Perkins have a ton of potential, and if they can live up to it this could be the beginning of the Thunder's Western dominance for the better part of a decade.
Where to watch: The game can be viewed online at www.firstrowsports.eu/sport/basketball.html. It will also be broadcast nationally on TNT at 10:30 p.m. ET.
Prediction: The Thunder are poised to become the leading power in the West and the Lakers look like a team on their way out. It took one of L.A.'s best games of the year to get past the Thunder once, and they just don't have it in them to do it again.
Predicted Score: Oklahoma City over Los Angeles 92-88