Updated: March 5, 2013, 8:30 PM ET

1. The Lakers Might Not Want This Russ Matchup

By Royce Young | ESPN.com/TrueHoop Network

OKLAHOMA CITY -- We've seen the Los Angeles Lakers play the Oklahoma City Thunder quite a bit over the past few years. A six-game series in 2009, a bunch of regular-season games in between and a five-game series last postseason.

And if we've learned anything from it all, it's that the Lakers have absolutely no clue what to do about Russell Westbrook.

Their best bet is Kobe Bryant, who, mind you, is 34 years old and not quite his once spry defensive self. Because after that, Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Steve Carell -- it doesn't matter. Nobody is stopping Westbrook.

Russell Westbrook
Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY SportsRussell Westbrook's sizzling speed is one reason the Lakers might not want to draw OKC again.

"Yeah it's fun," Westbrook said of his matchup with Bryant. "He's a competitor. I like to compete, as well. But I like to win also."

Which is what Westbrook's Thunder did Tuesday night. In 36 relentless minutes, Westbrook put up 37 points, snared 10 rebounds and dished out five assists in the Thunder's 122-105 roll of the Lakers.

Westbrook always plays with a certain pace, a noticeable fury. It's like anger mixed with hyperactivity. But with his hometown Lakers here and a matchup with Bryant standing in his way of a win, Westbrook was at a different level of frenzy. It was like all of the Harlem Shake videos put into one. Each Westbrook bucket came packaged with either a strut, a sneer or a flex. Or even, on occasion, all three. He flung his arms wildly, pounded his chest, pumped his fists and bellowed out with every and-1, every dunk, every bucket.

"I enjoy the challenge," Kobe said of Westbrook. "It's always fun to go up against him. Some nights I get the best of him. I argue with him that most nights I get the best of him. But tonight, he did his thing, he did his thing. He kept it under control tonight. He's just a fantastic player."

Obviously, the Thunder and Lakers are at different stages, constructed with entirely different approaches. The Thunder were built in a petri dish, grown and developed into the monster they are now. The Lakers have always been the monster, one that has tried to sharpen its teeth with big offseason moves.

Regardless of what they've done, the one distinction between the two teams has remained Westbrook. His knifing, slashing attack is something the Lakers have no answer for. He gets to the rim at will, and with Dwight Howard still apparently not right physically, there's nothing standing in his way of two easy points when he leaves his man standing in stone behind him.

Add in Kevin Durant, even on an off night -- an "off night" being 9-for-22 shooting for 26 points -- and the Lakers are pretty much cooked before tip-off. As the Lakers battle for a spot in the postseason, there's this looming possibility that the Thunder rise into the West's top seed, presenting the Lakers a rematch with the team that sent them packing last postseason. Something I can't help but think would preferably be avoided by the Lakers.

"We don't have the athleticism that they do, so if we allow them to play to their strengths and use their athleticism, we're going to be in trouble," Bryant said. "Everybody can get up and down and use their speed to get to the rim. We have to be able to alter that. If we can stay in front of the ball, be solid defensively, we'll give ourselves a much better chance."

Here's the problem with that: Staying in front of the ball, especially when it's in Westbrook's hands, is about as realistic for the Lakers as Magic Johnson's bronze statue coming to life and signing a 10-day contract. In fact, that's exactly what the Lakers look like when Westbrook attacks them off the dribble -- bronzed defenders.

The Thunder's offense is built around speed, athleticism, quickness, skill and efficiency. And on this night against the Lakers, OKC turned the ball over an NBA record-tying two times, which led to 96 shot attempts. Considering the fact that the Lakers can't guard them to start with, that's not a winning formula.

But Kobe is as resilient as they come and despite a mysterious elbow injury that had him dragging his right arm around like a limp noodle, he still kept his Lakers in it and gave them a chance. But a near-six minute scoring drought to finish the game allowed the Thunder to close on a 12-0 run and send the Lakers back under .500. A humbling experience and another dose of reality that they just aren't in the same conversation right now with the class of the West.

"I told these guys, 'They are good,'" Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said. "'They are probably the best team in the West. We need to measure up against it.'"

Something difficult to envision them doing, especially in a postseason series. The Lakers still have to get there first, but if they find themselves matched against Westbrook's Thunder in the opening round, their playoff experience might come and go just like one of No. 0's assaults on the rim: fast.

Royce Young's work can be found on the Daily Thunder. Follow him at @dailythunder

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Royce Young

ESPN Staff Writer

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