Take a team that was bounced in the second round of the playoffs by the Oklahoma City Thunder. Add Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to the roster of said team and still that squad won’t be better than the Thunder. Yes, the Lakers have closed the gap separating them from OKC. No doubt about that.
Still, the Thunder is the team to beat in the NBA’s Western Conference and there’s not another move the Lakers can make in order to make that gap disappear.
Even with Howard and Pau Gasol patrolling the paint OKC boasts of Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka to contend with the Laker bigs.
Even with Nash OKC still has Russell Westbrook who is incapable of containing himself most nights so you know Nash has no chance.
And let’s not forget about one Kevin Durant for which there is no equal on the planet.
Now Mike Brown did show some real skill by slowing OKC’s roll during the Lakers’ 5 game series with the Thunder. So there is plenty of reason to believe the Lakers could eliminate the Thunder should these two meet again. But that’s a playoff prediction, not an outlook on how the Western Conference will stack up.
For my money I’ll take OKC to sit atop the West by the end of the 2012-13 season. Odds are the Thunder will be more focused than ever having seen their title hopes vanish in the South Beach humidity. As we know veteran teams like the Lakers tend to sleepwalk through certain portions of the season. That’s why I’m calling the Lakers finishing just outside of the top spot but still very much within striking distance.
Another reason why the Thunder gets the meaningless preseason nod is due to the familiarity factor.
While the Lakers are learning their new teammates and offense the Thunder will be back on the same page with the same goal. That could benefit OKC early in the season. Of course none of this factors in the injury bug that can bite at anytime.
So for now I’ll concede the West to the Thunder. They can have it. Come playoff time the second season starts and everything that happened during the regular season becomes meaningless. The Lakers veteran experience should put them closer to even terms with OKC but we can’t overlook what that young squad accomplished last season. Let’s just plan on revisiting this topic a few hundred times between now and October.