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.
Mar 12, 2014, 8:22 AM EDT
One really good team won’t make it at all, and at least two excellent teams won’t even make the second round.
Mar 12, 2014, 2:33 AM EDT
Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while thinking I never had teachers like that… San Antonio Spurs offense. The Bulls defense has forced everyone they have faced lately into an ugly, grappling fight on the ground that favors Chicago. Even Miami fell victim to it. San Antonio rose above it with…
Mar 12, 2014, 1:00 AM EDT
Nothing is final until the ink dries on the contract, but Jackson to the Knicks as team president seems done. It will end poorly but should be an interesting ride.
Mar 12, 2014, 12:32 AM EDT
To be fair Omer Asik was wide open, he just was on the bench at the time when Dwight Howard hit him with a pass.
Mar 11, 2014, 11:21 PM EDT
Kevin Durant led the Thunder to victory with his 42 points, but not before there were plenty of fireworks between the two teams.
Mar 11, 2014, 9:36 PM EDT
Kobe Bryant’s recovery has been slower than expected, and the Lakers are reportedly ready to officially shut him down for the season.
Patrick Beverley goes at Russell Westbrook just as he did on the play that caused injury in 2013 playoffs (VIDEO)
Mar 11, 2014, 8:44 PM EDT
Patrick Beverley gives Russell Westbrook a not-so-subtle reminder of the play that caused Westbrook’s season-ending knee injury in the 2013 playoffs.
Mar 11, 2014, 8:13 PM EDT
George Karl says that Carmelo Anthony, whom he coached in Denver, isn’t a Phil Jackson type of player. Which means?
Mar 11, 2014, 7:10 PM EDT
You knew this was coming right after the incident Monday night — the Suns Tucker got a game for a forearm to Griffin’s head. As he should have.
Mar 11, 2014, 4:43 PM EDT
It’s been clear for a while that Kobe Bryant was done for the season. The Lakers would not say that publicly for the same reason the Bulls would not say Derrick Rose would not come back last playoffs when we all knew he wouldn’t. They don’t want to anger their star player, and if fans…
Mar 11, 2014, 3:44 PM EDT
If Andrea Bargnani is out the rest of the season, Knicks fans will be good with that.
Mar 11, 2014, 2:50 PM EDT
Why to the Boston Celtics need a St. Patrick’s Day uniform? Good question. But they have one now, with sleeves.
Mar 11, 2014, 1:56 PM EDT
The last time LeBron went back-to-back games without a trip to the free throw line he was a rookie.
Mar 11, 2014, 1:10 PM EDT
To be fair to the ball boy, nobody expects Tyler Hansbrough to make a steal on the perimeter then race out on the fast break by himself.
Mar 11, 2014, 12:25 PM EDT
Don’t use cotton swabs, kids.
Mar 11, 2014, 11:47 AM EDT
With backup center Ian Mahinmi out for the night, the Andrew Bynum era in Indiana will begin Tuesday against Boston.
Mar 11, 2014, 11:25 AM EDT
Conflicts with yesterday’s prominent report
Mar 11, 2014, 11:11 AM EDT
All the way to playoffs?
Mar 11, 2014, 10:43 AM EDT
Also compares his phone to bell bottoms, which might be pretty ironic, but I’m not a fasion expert.
- Tuesday night NBA Grades: San Antonio with another impressive statement 0
- Report: Knicks, Phil Jackson have deal in principle for him to oversee basketball operations 7
- Kevin Durant scores 42, Thunder win a chippy one over Rockets 7
- Report: Lakers to officially declare Kobe Bryant out for the season 19
- Suns’ P.J. Tucker suspended one game for blow to head of Blake Griffin 10