When the Oklahoma City Thunder (34-10) visits the Los Angeles Lakers (18-25) at 3:30 ET, they will be a 3½-point favorite. The game, shown live on ABC has a similar storyline as the Miami Heat – Boston Celtics matchup it follows.

Before the season, both the Thunder and Lakers were regarded as two of the top four or five teams in the NBA, let alone the Western Conference. NBA observers had the Thunder and Lakers on a collision course to face each other in the Western Conference Finals. The offseason predictions appear well off. The Thunder is among the elite teams in the Association, while the Lakers are in danger to miss the playoffs for only sixth time in franchise history.

When you toss out the records for both teams, you find a tantalizing contest featuring four of the NBA’s top-15 players. This game is filled with star power.

Kevin Durant is once again among the front-runners for the MVP award. He leads the league in scoring, putting up 29.5 PPG. Durant is also hauling in 7.3 RPG.

Helping Durant is the always exciting Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. Both players are enjoying career seasons. They will look to make the Lakers work on both sides of the ball.

Kobe Bryant will not allow his Lakers team to go down quietly. After leading the NBA in scoring for much of the year, Kobe has tapered off a bit, shooting 38 percent from the field and averaging 21.4 PPG in his last five games.

Kobe is usually up for the challenge when he plays in high-profile games. He will match Durant’s output. How the Lakers will fare as a team, rests solely on the shoulders of their mercurial center, Dwight Howard.

To say the season has not been kind to Howard is an understatement.  His troubles are the primary reason why the Lakers are on the outside looking in in NBA the playoff picture. When Howard scores 20 or more points and snags at least 10 rebounds, the Lakers are 8-5. They are 10-20 when he does not have that type of night.

To Howard’s defense, he is still recovering from back surgery that ended his season last year. Getting back into a rhythm has been difficult for him. If he returns to the Dwight Howard of old or somewhere close, the Lakers will become a dangerous foe for any team. A win against one of the Association’s best would be a step in the right direction.

Where To Watch Online: OKC Thunder at LA Lakers