Skip to content

Lakers-Thunder Western Conference Semifinals Preview: No longer a feel good story

May 14, 2012, 4:42 PM EDT

Russell Westbrook, Matt Barnes AP

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.

Latest Posts
  1. And-1 Links: League Pass alert — Ben McLemore is the new Pizza Guy

    Sep 16, 2014, 9:34 PM EDT

    Isaiah Thomas pizza guy

    Nick Young’s girlfriend Iggy Azalea is better at trick shots than you.

  2. Report: Dirk Nowitzki to play in EuroBasket 2015, which is 2016 Olympics qualifier

    Sep 16, 2014, 8:33 PM EDT

    Mark Cuban, Dirk Nowitzki Getty Images

    Germany qualifying for the Olympics, even with Nowitzki, is an uphill battle.

  3. Tim Duncan to appear in “The Punisher” comic book

    Sep 16, 2014, 5:59 PM EDT

    Tim Duncan Punisher

    Guaranteed Duncan likes this better than another trip to the All-Star Game.

  4. Bulls officially sign E’Twaun Moore, he’s likely to stick with team

    Sep 16, 2014, 5:20 PM EDT

    Mason Plumlee, E'Twaun Moore Mason Plumlee, E'Twaun Moore

    Half his salary the first year is guaranteed, a sign he is expected to make the final roster.

  5. Report: Glenn Robinson III signs guaranteed deal with Timberwolves

    Sep 16, 2014, 4:19 PM EDT

    Zach LaVine and Glen Robinson III of the Minnesota Timberwolves Portraits

    The guaranteed deal is huge but the Wolves are deep at the three. He’ll struggle to get minutes.

  6. Kings retiring Peja Stojakovic’s number

    Sep 16, 2014, 2:33 PM EDT

    Peja Stojakovic Peja Stojakovic

    Stojakovic’s 3-point bombing made Sacramento better for quite some time

  7. Andrei Kirilenko wants Lionel Hollins to play him more than Jason Kidd did

    Sep 16, 2014, 1:50 PM EDT

    Andrei Kirilenko Andrei Kirilenko

    Kirilenko played by far career-low 19 minutes per game last season

  8. 67RIEFNS No. 4: Andrew Wiggins vs. Jabari Parker

    Sep 16, 2014, 11:44 AM EDT

    Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins

    No. 1 and No. 2 picks in the NBA draft square off against each other, expectations

  9. Steve Clifford sees Marvin Williams as primarily stretch four with Hornets

    Sep 16, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT

    Josh McRoberts, Marvin Williams Josh McRoberts, Marvin Williams

    Williams, who plays both forward positions, now favorite to replace Josh McRoberts in starting lineup

  10. ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: New York Knicks

    Sep 16, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT

    Derek Fisher Derek Fisher

    Plenty of changes, but enough to make the playoffs?

  11. Report: Spurs open to signing-and-trading Aron Baynes

    Sep 16, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT

    Patty Mills Foot Locker In Store Appearance Getty Images

    San Antonio already has 17 players, qualifying offer out to Baynes

  12. Klay Thompson’s agent: Thompson better two-way shooting guard than Kobe Bryant

    Sep 16, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT

    Golden State Warriors v Los Angeles Lakers Golden State Warriors v Los Angeles Lakers

    Bill Duffy: ‘Klay Thompson right now is the top two-way, two-guard in basketball’

  13. Deron Williams says after surgery his ankles feel the best they have in years

    Sep 16, 2014, 8:30 AM EDT

    Deron Williams AP

    Deron Williams opening the season healthy would be huge… but just the start of what they need from him.

Featured video

What players stood out at World Cup?
Top 10 NBA Player Searches
  1. D. Rose (3173)
  2. L. James (2485)
  3. D. Ferry (2445)
  4. K. Irving (2317)
  5. J. Valanciunas (2254)
  1. K. Bryant (2163)
  2. P. George (2020)
  3. N. Batum (1694)
  4. C. Anthony (1655)
  5. R. Gay (1644)