One game into the best of seven series against Oklahoma City and the Lakers have already exposed the Thunder as the young and inexperienced team we all knew they were.
However, that was a given.
As we’ve learned over the course of the season, the Lakers putting forth the effort of a champion isn’t always given.
For this series to go beyond five games would be due directly to the Lakers and their inability to remain focused. OKC is a young squad with all kinds of talent on the roster. But we saw their limitations surface in the first quarter on Sunday.
Kevin Durant is a pure scorer but he is that rare breed of scorer who hardly forces shots. KD is a patient attacker who gets his shots in the flow of the offense, choosing to allow the game to come to him all the while dropping 30 a night on average. Like any great defender, Ron Artest used Durant’s nature against him during the 87-79 Game One victory.
Whereas most scorers in the NBA continue to put up shots during cold streaks, Durant sits backs awaiting the right moment to arise. His patience proved to be his own undoing as Ron Ron played the role of Clarence Thomas harassing Durant all day long like Anita Hill. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that the NBA’s leading scorer finally started going for his.
Another area where Oklahoma City has a distinct advantage is at the point guard position where Russell Westbrook has spent his time torching the team he grew up rooting for. The Leuzinger High grad is a nightmare for the Laker guards to defend. When he attacks the rim one of two things usually occur: Either Westbrook draws a crowd then finds an open man or he gets to the hole and hangs two on the board.
Of course, his weakness is shooting the rock. Therefore, taking the Rondo approach is best when defending Westbrook. Give him enough space to encourage taking jumpers but no so much that he gets a full head of steam towards the hoop.
Beyond Durant and Westbrook, the Thunder bigs simply don’t have the size to matchup with the Lake Show nor do they have a deep enough bench to deal with all the different looks PJ will put on the court.
While the Lakers offensively never got up to speed on Sunday, the defense was on point from the opening tip. Take away a few lapses in the second quarter and it was nearly a picture perfect effort.
With all that being said, we come full circle to the pedigree of a veteran team defending their title versus a young roster learning the rigors of playoff basketball. An area of immense importance and one that the Lakers just so happen to have the decided advantage in.
Respect due to the Thunder for their amazing turn around from one year ago but they’re outclassed and out coached in every facet of the game. With another dangerous matchup looming in the next round the Lakers need to make quick work of OKC and remain healthy. Anything that resembles the debacle that was the Houston series of a year ago will be a failure of Olowokandi proportions by Laker standards.