2012 NBA Picks: Oklahoma City Thunder @ Los Angeles Lakers Odds and Predictions – Free NBA Picks 4/22/2012: With the regular season winding down, the Thunder (46-17) and Lakers (40-24) already know they will be headed to the postseason. However, both teams have plenty to play for when they meet Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles. Oklahoma City is just one game back in the loss column on San Antonio for the top seed in the Western Conference. Meanwhile, the Lakers are clinging to a half-game lead over the Clippers in the Pacific Division. Throw in the fact that these two teams could meet again in the second round of the playoffs, and Sunday’s game has plenty riding on it. The Thunder is going for the season sweep in the series and is a 2 ½-point favorite in this matchup.

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In the first two meetings between the teams, Oklahoma City was simply too much offensively for the Lakers to handle. The Thunder won 100-85 in a February contest and 102-93 in the Staples Center on March 29. For the year, the Thunder has a huge edge on the offensive end over Los Angeles. Oklahoma City is third in the NBA in scoring at 102.8 per game, while the Lakers rank in the middle of the road. The two teams are comparable on the defensive end and on the boards, which makes the Thunder’s scoring prowess all the more noteworthy.

Los Angeles’ biggest issue is slowing down Oklahoma City is that it doesn’t have an answer for the Thunder’s two star players. Forward Kevin Durant and point guard Russell Westbrook rank second and fifth in the NBA in scoring, and both have played crucial roles in Oklahoma City’s victories over the Lakers. Durant dropped 33 in the February victory, and Westbrook exploded for 36 in the March win. With Ron Artest no longer the lockdown defender he used to be, Los Angeles doesn’t have the speed or athleticism on the perimeter to contain either player. Even the addition of point guard Ramon Sessions didn’t help the Lakers, as Westbrook had his big game against Sessions.

While the matchup issues with Durant and Westbrook are from ideal for Los Angeles, the Lakers’ biggest problem against the Thunder has been Kobe Bryant’s shooting woes. He has made just 14 of his 49 shot attempts in the two meetings with Oklahoma City, and since the Lakers have struggled to score at times when Bryant has been playing well, they have little chance of winning if he struggles once again. It’s tough to bet against the NBA’s leading scorer, but the length of the Thunder’s Thabo Sefolosha seems to bother Bryant. Not to mention the fact that Bryant is just returning from a shin injury. At the very least, Oklahoma City will make Bryant work for his points.

The X-factor in the game could be Los Angeles center Andrew Bynum. He has blossomed as a post scorer this season and recently grabbed 30 rebounds in a game. When he is focused, Bynum can take over a game offensively for Los Angeles, and the Lakers will need him to do just that Sunday. Oklahoma City does have two big bodies in the paint to counteract Bynum in Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka, but Bynum had little trouble scoring in the March meeting, finishing with 25 points on just 15 shots. He will need to have an even bigger game this down around to get the Lakers over the hump.

In the end, the Thunder is just a tough matchup for the Lakers. Los Angeles is used to being the older, slower team, but having Bynum and Pau Gasol usually allows the Lakers to dominate the glass and the paint. Oklahoma City has enough size and athleticism inside to hold its own against the Lakers’ big men and the perimeter firepower and speed to outscore Bryant and company. The Thunder already has two easy wins against Los Angeles this season, and a season sweep should be on tap.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder (-2 ½) Covers the Spread

Current Odds: Favorite - Oklahoma City -1 Total - OVER/UNDER 198.5

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