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Loud Links: 4|18|10

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Lakers can't match Thunder's youth and good health -
Yes, the Lakers deserve a landslide edge in this first-round matchup. But the Thunder could still shock Lakerdom and send the Lakers packing. Here's why:

Healthier bodies: Kobe Bryant (finger, ankle, knee), Andrew Bynum (left Achilles' strain), Shannon Brown (right thumb), Ron Artest (mild ankle sprain), Jordan Farmar (strained hamstring) and Sasha Vujacic (severe ankle sprain) are hurting. Except for Vujacic, all are expected to play Sunday. But at what level? [They failed to mention Mbenga] Meantime, center Nenad Krstic (right knee) is the Thunder's only questionable player.

Youth/speed: The Thunder have the youngest playoff-bound core of players since 1952, according to a analysis performed for the Wall Street Journal, which tabbed the average age of the Thunder's main contributors at 23.19, the lowest average of 693 playoff teams. Those fresh legs, with former UCLA Bruin Russell Westbrook at point guard, created an up-tempo style that gave the Lakers fits this season — two of the Lakers' three wins came by just three points. That youth will challenge them again this series, especially because the Lakers have four key players in their 30s: Bryant, Artest, Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher.

Kevin Durant: The smoothest scorer since George "The Iceman" Gervin, the "Durantula" is a terrifying matchup at 6 feet 9 with a shooting range to the parking lot. The NBA's youngest-ever regular-season scoring champion (30.1 ppg) also took 10.2 foul shots per game this season — which Phil Jackson was fined $35,000 for ridiculing. He also averaged 25.8 points against the Lakers this season. And he'll get his points this series, no matter how Artest guards him. [This article goes on to mention OKC's defense and overall progression. Check it out.]

Oklahoma City steals Kansas City's thunder |
[This is an odd read.] There should be no story from here for you to read. In that different world, this story would not come from Oklahoma City because there would be no Oklahoma City Thunder. Instead, this story should be about the Kansas City Thunder. It would be coming from the Sprint Center. Oh, we'd probably call the team something different. The Kansas City Cyclones, perhaps. Or the Storm. Maybe even a personal favorite: the Kansas City Stars. Whatever the name, there would be a real NBA or NHL team playing at the Sprint Center. But a bizarre and uncontrollable set of circumstances have conspired against Kansas City, leaving us with near-empty chances of ever landing a team. What's worse is that in that other world, our team would probably be pretty good, too - if it was the Thunder, we'd have NBA scoring leader Kevin Durant and now be matched against the Lakers in the playoffs. Yep. A Kansas City team would be in the playoffs.

A Preview Of The NBA Playoffs : NPR
NORRIS: Now, you mentioned Kevin Durant of Oklahoma City. Not only did he have a breakout season, but that team had a pretty remarkable turnaround.

Mr. FATSIS: Yeah, the eighth best in NBA history, actually. Just the second year in town, Oklahoma City won 50 games, an improvement of 27 wins. And when you look at the list of best turnarounds, what leaps out is that all the other teams had significant changes to their lineups. So, for instance, in 2008, the Boston Celtics had the biggest turnaround ever - 42 games - after trading for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, two future Hall of Famers. Other teams benefitted from the addition or return of - and this is a pretty good list here - Larry Bird, Lew Alcindor, Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Steve Nash and Dwyane Wade. Oklahoma City basically played with the same team it had last season.

NORRIS: So, what changed?

Mr. FATSIS: Well, Durant mostly. I think this is a simple progression of extraordinary talent. Durant's gone from scoring 20 to 25 to 30 points per game in his three years in the NBA. Clearly, he's become a better team player too.

NORRIS: Stefan, the Thunder had a great season but now they face what some could say is almost a David and Goliath battle by turning around to face the L.A. Lakers, this dynastic sports franchise.

Mr. FATSIS: Yeah, defending champions. I think the Thunder have a chance. They are young, they are not very experienced in the playoffs, but the Lakers have shown some fraying this year. They lost 10 of their final 14 games against teams that are in the playoffs. Chris Ballard on uses some numbers from a site called Hoop Data to show that Kobe Bryant, their star, at age 31, 14 years in the league, starting to show some signs of vulnerability. He had the most shots blocked that he's had in the - percentage-wise in the last four years, free throw percentage down, field goal percentage down overall, especially when he's up right at the rim. And while Kobe Bryant scored 31, 26 and 40 points against the Thunder earlier in the season, he managed just 11 points against them a few weeks ago. I think it's going to be a competitive series.