Lakers v Thunder Preview: It's Oklahoma City's Time

May 14, 2012

Two years ago, the Los Angeles Lakers faced the Oklahoma City Thunder in the playoffs, and LA barely squeaked by in six games. The Thunder were incredibly young and inexperienced at the time, but nearly took the defending champs to seven games.

Relieved to have those pesky young guns out of the way that year, LA was left with a lingering, dreadful feeling: The Thunder are coming for them.

Maybe not this year, maybe not next year, but the Lakers knew it was inevitable.

As Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Serge Ibaka grew up and matured, the Thunder would only get better. Eventually, the road to the finals in the Western Conference would go through Oklahoma City.

That year has finally arrived. Oklahoma City’s time is now.

After seeing how difficult it was for the Lakers to get by the Nuggets, it’s hard to believe they can beat OKC. The Thunder will play the same up-tempo style that the Nuggets played, only with better players and better defense.

LA can beat them once or twice. But four times out of seven? And without home-court advantage? It’s hard to see that happening.

The Lakers are too unpredictable, too inconsistent. You don’t know what you’re going to get from their best players, the way OKC knows what they’ll get from Durant, Westbrook, and Harden.

Even with Westbrook -- who has the notorious tendency to shoot the Thunder out of games -- you know he’ll provide relentless energy and effort, for better or worse. You can’t always say that about Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum.

With the obvious exception of Kobe, Bynum and Gasol are the Lakers two greatest assets, and their biggest advantage over every team in the NBA. And tragically for Lakers fans, they only play to their potential in spurts.

Bynum has a tendency to lose interest on both ends of the floor if he’s not getting the ball. Gasol’s problem is that he really needs to be prodded to get aggressive and fiery. He just doesn’t naturally have the same kind of competitive streak of Kobe Bryant. If LA has any chance of winning this series, both Bynum and Gasol must have phenomenal performances in at least 4 games.

The problem with that concept is that the Thunder have probably the best antidote to LA’s twin towers of any team in the league.

Serge Ibaka has the length to match up with Pau perfectly, and has turned into one of the league’s premier shot blockers. Meanwhile, Kendrick Perkins is the best low-post defender in the league, and showed what he can do against Bynum and Gasol back in the 2010 Finals. Many feel like the Lakers wouldn’t have won that series against Boston if Perkins hadn’t been injured for Game 7.

However, after what the Nuggets did defensively in the first round, the Thunder may not even need Perkins or Ibaka to play particularly well.

George Karl, being the mastermind that he is, found a defensive formula for stopping the Lakers: 1) Double team Andrew Bynum as soon as he touches the ball; 2) make the Lakers shoot three pointers; and 3) make Steve Blake, World Peace, and Matt Barnes beat you.

As a result, it took some unusually hot shooting from Lakers guard Steve Blake just to barely beat Denver in a seventh game.

The one saving grace for LA is that they will have Metta World Peace back in the lineup to guard Kevin Durant.

As great as Durant is, the wrap on him has always been that if you can physically bother him over the course of 48 minutes, his offensive game suffers.

Nobody does this better than World Peace. He doesn’t have the lateral movement that he once had, but he makes up for that with his strength and a competitive drive that rivals that of Kobe. If both he and Kobe can bother Durant and Westbrook, respectively, the Lakers have a chance.

With home court advantage, this is Oklahoma City’s series to lose. That would be a comforting thought for Thunder fans, if only they didn’t already have the tendency to beat themselves. OKC's biggest problems are self-inflicted: Unnecessary turnovers and bad shot selection.

Those two weaknesses are telltale signs of youth and inexperience, and in this series we’ll see just how much the Thunder have grown up.


The Lakers can theoretically win the series with four games of great offense from Bynum and Gasol, and great defense from Kobe and World Peace. But at this point, that seems unlikely. Kobe can win a game by himself, but not four. OKC is hungry and confident, and has something to prove.

Thunder in six.

By Max Rucker
Contributing Writer for The Daily Sports Herald

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