(Weekends are always tough to prepare for Sunday afternoon games, and this one was no exception. Jeff Clark had these questions for us here at WTLC and of course we've got plenty of answers. We're posting both Jeff's questions and his answers here at WTLC, so please take a look at both.)
CelticsBlog: What's the latest with Kendrick Perkins? Intangibles guy that makes people better despite lack of stats? Or perhaps not the best fit for what you are trying to do?
WTLC: Perkins as a player remains divisive as ever, as I'm sure you're aware. The divided opinions aside, Perk has actually played pretty well as of late. He is an asset against teams like the Lakers and Clippers, and can still hold his own against the inside game of the Spurs. While there are certain matchups where he's at a clear disadvantage, there is no doubt that Perkins has value in many situations.
Of course, 'many situations' contains a caveat - it means 'not all situations,' and that is perhaps where the Thunder get into trouble. Perk vs Dwight Howard, yep, that's a good time to feature Perk. OKC vs Miami? Not so much.
It's not his fault, really. Perkins gives what he can give. It falls more on the shoulders of the Thunder coaching staff, where they have a tendency to wait too long to switch to a small-ball lineup and allow teams to take advantage of Perkins' offensive shortcomings. The onus is on Scott Brooks - he has to do a better job of recognizing when Perkins is an asset and when he is not and then not hesitate to adjust when the situation calls for it.
CelticsBlog: Any fear (or concern) of maybe facing the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs?
WTLC: Oh, glory, no. I would be positively delighted to see the Lakers in the first round, not the least of which is that I still enjoy watching the Lakers lose games, even after all these years.
The question of course is, why? The answer is because even after the Howard and Nash acquisitions, the Lakers' deficiency against OKC has not changed one iota. They still cannot stop Russell Westbrook. To be sure, the Lakers have ALWAYS struggled with fast, penetrating guards who can rip through pick-and-roll scenarios, and the addition of Nash does little to solve this dilemma. Whenever Westbrook squares off against LA, he is looking at a team that is completely unequipped to do anything to stop him. He can get to any spot on the court he wants to in order to take whatever shot he likes. Until the Lakers address that issue, even a triple-rejuvenated Kobe is going to be insufficient.
As great as Kobe has played this year, and he has played pretty well against OKC, at best Kobe is going to fight to a draw with Kevin Durant. Durant doesn't need to play great or even good most nights against LA; all he needs to do is match whatever output Kobe has. If this is accomplished, there is nothing else on the Lakers' team that can match the Thunder's offensive firepower.
CelticsBlog: Are you down with the advanced stats and Sloan conference stuff? Give us some interesting data to ponder about the Thunder.
WTLC: I've personally tried to steer clear of dwelling on too many advanced stats this season, because if I do, I inevitably start gnashing my teeth at the thought of watching James Harden in a Rockets uniform.
PER and true shooting percentage and all that are helpful in explaining why Durant or Westbrook should be perennial all-stars and why Nick Collison is a valuable backup, but it doesn't go a long way in my mind to defining why a team wins games. For winning games, I care more about how certain players play together, because as we know in the playoffs, winning games isn't merely about high production. It is about solving continuously evolving sets of problems that the other team is presenting you with. Gregg Popovich plays a 3 guard offense with a stretch-4; what OKC personnel can play well enough together to deal with that? Miami shifts LeBron to the power point-forward position and surrounds him with 3-point shooters; do OKC's collection of guards have enough court time experience to know how to adjust?
To address this concern, I really like 82games.com and their breakdown of 5-man floor units.
With these types of breakdowns, I can see not only whether the squad that takes up most of the minutes is proficient, but also the bench player rotations. As the competitive level rises and the margin for error shrinks, the production out of role players like Reggie Jackson, Kevin Martin, and Nick Collison becomes all the more pronounced.
CelticsBlog: Russell Westbrook - is he 1B or B on this team? Does he believe he's #1?
WTLC: I like to think of the Durant and Westbrook combination this way. Westbrook is the hammer, and Durant is the spear. What I mean by this is that Westbrook resembles sir Lancelot storming the castle in "Monty Python's Holy Grail."
Westbrook keeps hammering and hammering at a defense without ceasing, and it puts tremendous pressure on the defensive point of attack to keep him out of the lane. He never stops attacking. Westbrook may end up killing a few of the bridesmaids and wedding guests of course, but the net effect is that it turns the opposing interior defense into mush.
Once the defense is suitably softened, Durant goes to work and scores in a super efficient manner from all over the court, because he has few impediments remaining. Westbrook's bludgeoning makes Durant's sniper-shooting much easier than it would be otherwise, and therefore Westbrook is as necessary component as Durant is to the Thunder's offensive system.
CelticsBlog: Enough about you, what do you think of Jeff Green and the Celtics?
WTLC: I am truly happy to see that Jeff Green is finally figuring things out and is raising his game across the board. He's one of those guys who always seemed to have the total package, but it just didn't quite sync up into him playing dominant at any level. Perhaps he'll never get to a Scottie Pippen-like place or even a Tracy McGrady-like place, but I'm guessing that the Celtic culture and the influence of Garnett and Pierce is finally rubbing off on him.
For the Celtics, I would really love to see them get another shot at LeBron and the Heat. Last year's epic series was for intents and purposes LeBron's coming out party, which culminated in a championship. If this is the end of the Garnett-led Celtics, it would be sweet to see them get one more crack at The King. I know it would be worth remembering.
Be sure to tune in at 1PM ET for Thunder vs Celtics.