There is no need to debate whether or not the Lakers are title contenders. At this point in the NBA season everyone still playing is a title contender. Forget the semantics let’s just look at the facts.
Fact of the matter is this isn’t 2010 anymore. That would be the last time these two teams tangled in the postseason. The Lake Show prevailed, going on to wear the NBA crown that season but it was by no means any easy series. OKC pushed the Lakers like it was the Western Finals instead of a first round 1-8 matchup.
L.A. escaped in six but the warning signs were there. We all knew the day would come when it would be the Lakers standing in the way of the Thunder instead of the other way around.
Well…here we are. That day has arrived and the only real question is which Laker team made the trip to Oklahoma City?
If it’s the inspired group that showed up Saturday against Denver and made an appearance when these two met at the end of the regular season then this will be a real battle. However if it’s the disinterested team that took the first round to the full seven games then things will get ugly in a hurry.
Oklahoma City has about every type of player that gives the Lakers problems.
There’s a speedy and athletic point guard in Russell Westbrook. An active and feisty forward in Serge Ibaka. And, of course, there’s a dynamic scorer to in Kevin Durant who gives every NBA defense fits.
With the exception of Durant, the Lakers faced similar player types against Denver and we know how that went. Problem is the OKC versions are upgrades. Westbrook is Ty Lawson with more size and is a better defender. Ibaka is JaVale McGee with a more rounded offensive game and a better defensive presence.
Mix in the NBA’s best sixth man in James Harden and the Lakers have all kinds of reasons to zone-up every so often.
But this isn’t all one-way traffic.
Defending Kobe Bryant is about as easy as Andrew Bynum thinks close-out games are. KB24 continued his vintage efforts in the first round dropping nearly 30 a night against Denver.
Beyond Kobe the Thunder also has to deal with L.A.’s twin towers. Forget what you’ve heard about the Kendrick Perkins effect. That is hype. While Perkins is a very good low-post defender his absence is not why the Lakers beat the Celtics in Game 7 two years ago and his presence in Oklahoma isn’t going to be the reason why Bynum and Pau Gasol are neutralized.
No doubt Perkins will make the Laker bigs work for every point they get. Still, if Drew and the Spaniard play with that playoff intensity we long for they’ll make Perkins an after thought.
And with that we introduce the dreaded if word.
You just don’t know which team Mike Brown will put on the court tonight. When the Lakers play with that Metta World Peace inspired intensity they’re a tough out. If the juices are still flowing from Game 7 then expect an old school playoff grind tonight.
Should they allow the Thunder to jump out early and control the pace then you’d better be prepared for more Magic Johnson hyperbole. Either way the real key to a Laker victory is giving the effort of a champion. Everything else falls in place when the team, as a whole, is engaged and energetic. Allowing the Thunder to strike first and run away with Game 1 could set an ugly precedent. If it’s the Lakers that take one in OKC then the series will take on a much different feel as the younger squad will be sent scrambling back to the drawing board.
I’m thinking this one won’t be anything like the Lakers last appearance in the second round. If Bynum is tearing his shirt off on the court this time around it had better be a homage to Man City’s thrilling victory on Sunday and not because he’s authored another chapter in maturity saga. I’m thinking the former will hold true as my money is on Bynum taking a big step forward this series.
Topics: 2012 Nba Playoffs, Andrew Bynum, James Harden, Javale Mcgee, Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, Metta World Peace, Oklahoma City Thunder, Pau Gasol, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Ty Lawson