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Loud Links: 04|25|10 - Kobe is Smoking

Dilip Vishwanat

Dave McMenamin: Problems are piling up for Los Angeles Lakers - ESPN Los Angeles
Kobe Bryant lit up a cigar that was far from the victory variety as he made his way from his postgame news conference to the team bus down an empty hallway at the Ford Center, walking with a slight limp as he chatted with Nike executive Lynn Merritt in between puffs. It's a habit Bryant revealed in the first round of last postseason, smoking a stogie after a clunker in Utah before bouncing back with dominant games to close out the series, but as the thick smoke hung in the air it seemed to personify the cloud of doubt that suddenly hangs over the Los Angeles Lakers rather than a cleansing ritual.

The question on everyone's minds when the postseason started was whether the Los Angeles Lakers could put all the minor disappointments from the regular season behind them and emerge having accomplished their major goal, becoming the 2009-10 NBA champions. After their 110-87 Game 4 loss to the Thunder on Saturday -- a beat-down that should be embarrassing to their team and troubling to their fans -- forget the Finals. The question now becomes: Will they even get out of the first round?

NBA Playoffs: Oklahoma City Thunder Jeff Green looking for breakout - ESPN Los Angeles
While Green's second half didn't constitute a true breakout, it was better. Green added 10 points on three-of-five shooting from the floor and went to the line four times. Two of his points came after missing badly on a three-pointer, but beat every flatfooted Laker to nab the offensive rebound, which he converted into a layup. Charges were drawn against Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol.

"I stuck with it," nodded Green. "I continued to be aggressive and continued to attack the rim. I didn't get the calls in the first half, but I stayed with it and my shot began to fall." In the end, as long as Green plays in a way he deems acceptable, he can live with the shots being stubborn about dropping.

When his appearance was described as unconcerned, he confirmed body language as fact. "Yeah, man," smiled the Georgetown product. "I just gotta let the shots fall the way they may. I'm still confident in my shots. If they go in, they go in. If they don't, they don't. There's always another shot that's gonna come. But I gotta keep attacking. I gotta keep being aggressive. I can't get down on myself because my shots are not falling."

Opinion: No one’s scared of Kobe, Lakers anymore - NBC Sports
[Oh... I see. OKC puts up a fight against L.A. and people respect L.A. less. Why not give OKC their props.] In truth, this might not be the ideal healing place for a team that's searching for as much as the Lakers are searching for at the moment. The Ford Center can be rather disconcerting, and it has nothing to do with the noise.

For one thing, Oklahoma City's players constantly apply pressure by running the ball down the other team's throat. After two games here, Derek Fisher can tell Russell Westbrook's Nikes by the taste.

For another thing, the Kiss Cam promotion during timeouts here? It's sponsored by a truck stop. Yeah, this place is different. [A "truck stop" called "Love's" is an appropriate Kiss Cam sponsor. Stop trying to put Oklahoma down. By the way, they prefer to be called "Travel Stops and Country Stores".]

"This is a tough test," Bryant said. "They know how to play against us now. They know the matchups they like." And when Bryant plays as passively as he appeared to be playing to open this game, the Thunder even likes its matchup against him.

SLAM ONLINE | " Lakers/Thunder Game Recap
If Game 1 belonged to Ron Artest’s defense, Game 2 to Kobe Bryant’s closing ability,Russell Westbrook and Game 3 to Kevin Durant and his I-can-do-other-things potential, then Game 4 was dedicated to Russell Westbrook’s maturation as a point guard.

You had to look closely Saturday night, but it was there. Westbrook may have had 18 points, but he took only 11 shots – he controlled the game not with field goal attempts or points scored but with command, with Kidd-like tempo, with Nash-like reads. He’s 21. There were the 8 rebounds, the 6 assists, the zero turnovers, and the free entry into the paint whenever he chose. The kid who they sent to summer league despite a terrific rookie season just so he could further learn the point guard position, who they hired the great Maurice Cheeks for, who has a "positive swagger" his coach loves, the game was his.

Presti Leading Thunder to N.B.A. Respectability -
Presti engineered the moves shortly after the owner Clay Bennett announced his intention to move the franchise to Oklahoma City. Some Seattle fans interpreted the trades as sabotaging the team and facilitating the move.

Presti expected the reaction. He also had a clear vision. "I could understand the immediate reaction, and you cannot ask people to accept or understand the various layers that drive these kinds of decisions, but we felt confident that this direction would give us the best opportunity at lasting success," Presti said.

Presti’s decisions are now reflected in the maturing Thunder at a rapid rate of return. In his short tenure, Presti has flipped players the way a used-car salesman does cars, stockpiling draft picks and building internally. "It wasn’t like he was breaking up a dynasty," said Nick Collison, whose six years with the organization represent the longest current tenure of any player. "He realized in order to change things, he really had to go for it."