May 14, 2012, 4:42 PM EDT
Two years ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder faced the Los Angeles Lakers in the first-round of the 2010 NBA Playoffs. It was supposed to be a nice learning experience for a team on the rise, a quick lesson from the reigning champs as to how the playoffs work. Instead, the world was introduced to the intensity of the Oklahoma City crowd, and the Lakers generally looked inept in their efforts to dominate the less experienced team. The Lakers went on to win the title, because that’s kind of their thing. Struggle when they don’t have to actually try, then kill everything in front of them once they get going. The league took notice, though, and it was the big step forward for the Thunder into the spotlight.
My, how things have changed.
Now the Thunder enter Monday night as the prohibitive favorite, having handled the Lakers in all but their last meeting, an overtime home win for the Lakers that featured Metta World Peace taking out the Thunder’s third best player. The student has become the master, so to speak. But can they win out over the more experienced team, with Kobe Bryant and a huge size advantage?
Five things to note as the series kick off.
1. If You Want Blood, You Got It: This thing is no longer a friendly little-brother thing. It’s a full-blown rivalry. The Thunder have taken it to the Lakers, and James Harden was actually talking trash to Kobe Bryant in a Thunder win earlier this season. You know, the one before Metta World Peace “accidentally” elbowed him in the side of the head giving him a concussion. Kendrick Perkins has had an issue with Andrew Bynum for years dating back to his Boston days. Serge Ibaka goes at Pau Gasol, and Kevin Durant hates being guarded by MWP. The Lakers will always think they rule the roost and the Thunder just knocked off the Mavericks who tossed them last year. They have something to prove. This is going to be a rough series with emotions running high in the madhouse that is Chesapeake Energy Arena
2. On Guard: Anyone else notice that Ty Lawson destroyed the Lakers? Because Ty Lawson destroyed the Lakers. The Lakers have lacked a good perimeter defender for point guards for years. Ramon Sessions has not helped the situation. Russell Westbrook is the same model as Lawson, fast and explosive, only maybe faster, definitely more explosive, and a better overall scorer. In the 2010 series, Kobe Bryant switched onto Westbrook and did the lion’s share on him. The problem with that is that James Harden has stepped up and become the playmaker that OKC needs as a third option. If Bryant handles Westbrook, they’re just letting Harden loose. Switch MWP onto Harden to defend him without elbowing him, and there’s that problem of Kevin Durant. Someone’s going to get loose for OKC. It’s just a matter of the Lakers picking their poison.
3. Big And Bad And Lazy All Over: Kendrick Perkins does really well against huge athletic centers. But Andrew Bynum’s size is still going to win out most times… if he exerts himself. Bynum could have ended the Nuggets series in five games had he tried. He chose not to, and the series went to seven. How much effort will he give in this series? Likewise, Serge Ibaka is going to have a hard time with Pau Gasol who can shoot over him from mid-range which is where Ibaka struggles. If Gasol is engaged, which again, flip a coin, the Lakers have so much length they can punish the Thunder inside. If not, the game becomes about transition and perimeter and that’s where the Thunder live.
4. Unlikely Heroes: The playoffs have been rife with unlikely heroes. Among these was Steve Blake, hitting five threes in Game 7 vs. Denver. Can the Lakers get great shooting from Blake and MWP over the course of a series despite all evidence to the contrary outside of Game 7? Can Daequan Cook or Thabo Sefolosha makes plays? What about Jordan Hill? No, seriously, what about Jordan Hill? This series is likely to be close and whoever gets a step up from the unlikely guys may come out on top.
5. The Finest Hour: Kobe Bryant was magnificent in Game 6 in a lost cause. In Game 7, he played in the flow of the offense and encouraged his teammates to do their job. Kevin Durant struggled early on vs. the Mavericks before breaking loose. This series is about two evenly matched teams with history and talented rosters. But it’s about Kobe vs. Durant. The Thunder don’t have a defender like MWP to stick on Bryant, but Durant is the best scorer in the series. Either Bryant is going to add to his already insane legend, or Durant’s going to make the biggest statement of his.
May 23, 2015, 12:25 AM EDT
Cleveland shut down Atlanta’s offense in a dominant Game 2 performance.
May 22, 2015, 11:16 PM EDT
LeBron was great, and that was enough against a Hawks team that keeps losing guys due to injury.
May 22, 2015, 10:30 PM EDT
There’s also video of Harden doing some damage in the tunnel on the way to the locker room.
May 22, 2015, 9:30 PM EDT
Ruled a flagrant, which was probably the correct call under the circumstances.
May 22, 2015, 8:30 PM EDT
GM Mitch Kupchak: “It looks as though we’ll use our pick this year.”
May 22, 2015, 7:38 PM EDT
Irving is dealing with a knee injury.
May 22, 2015, 7:15 PM EDT
Explaining Stephen Curry’s game is just not that easy.
May 22, 2015, 6:49 PM EDT
Did they disagree? Sure. Was there a rift… depends on who you ask.
May 22, 2015, 5:45 PM EDT
Even an older NBA player has mad skills.
PBT Extra: Klay Thompson’s done well, but Warriors should throw other defenders at James Harden, too
May 22, 2015, 4:59 PM EDT
It might help Thompson’s offense, too.
May 22, 2015, 4:15 PM EDT
Summer League is a perfect place for giving White another look.
May 22, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
Give some credit to Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, who got back on defense.
Report: Lakers have ‘big-time’ interest in signing DeMarre Carroll, Celtics and Pistons also in pursuit
May 22, 2015, 2:45 PM EDT
Would they pay him the $15 million per season one NBA executive estimated the Hawks forward could get in free agency?
Report: Tom Thibodeau believed to prefer sitting out next season rather than helping Bulls by accepting trade
May 22, 2015, 2:07 PM EDT
That could leave Magic, Pelicans, Bulls and Thibodeau in a bind
May 22, 2015, 1:28 PM EDT
Which probably means it’s his last in the NBA
Chandler Parsons won’t say whether his surgery was microfracture, might not be ready for training camp
May 22, 2015, 12:50 PM EDT
Tea leaves reading negative for Mavericks
May 22, 2015, 12:13 PM EDT
LeBron James poised for a big game
Report: Lakers not locked into drafting Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor, could pick a guard at No. 2
May 22, 2015, 11:38 AM EDT
That’d be D’Angelo Russell or Emmanuel Mudiay
May 22, 2015, 11:02 AM EDT
Consider it Riley’s revenge
May 22, 2015, 10:25 AM EDT
Is his injury more serious than previously thought?
- Cavs’ improved defense deserves credit for commanding 2-0 Eastern Conference Finals lead 3
- No Kyrie Irving, no problem: Cavaliers cruise to blowout Game 2 win over Hawks 9
- Kyrie Irving out for Game 2 vs. Hawks 6
- PBT Extra: Klay Thompson’s done well, but Warriors should throw other defenders at James Harden, too 5
- PBT Extra: Give Warriors defense some credit for stop of Harden on last play 0
- Lakers general manager says Kobe Bryant told him next season will be Kobe’s last with Lakers 17
- For two games James Harden has been brilliant, but that’s not what anybody is talking about 25
- Warriors survive James Harden in Game 2, take 2-0 lead in Western Conference finals 15