After a long wait, the Lakers have finally gotten their head out of the sand and defeated the inferior Denver Nuggets. It's hard to take credit away from what the Nuggets did, but everybody knows that when both teams are playing at their best, the Lakers are a better team. And, as everybody knows, the Lakers have witnessed the return of Metta World Peace, who was suspended 7 games for hitting James Harden with a semi-intentional elbow. Adding insult to injury is that World Peace was stone cold towards Harden after the fact, saying that he didn't shake the hands of backups.
Meanwhile, the Thunder absolutely stormed through a quick four game series with the Mavericks. And by stormed, I don't mean cruised. Three of the four contests were highly contested, with Games 1 and 4 looking like certain losses during low points in the fourth. But the Thunder prevailed, and are now ready to take on the only team whom they've faced in the playoffs and never beaten: The Los Angeles Lakers.
|Andrew Bynum||Kendrick Perkins|
|18.7 Pts, 11.8 Reb, 1.4 Ast, 1.9 Blk||5.1 Pts, 6.6 Reb, 1.2 Ast, 1.1 Blk|
The Lowdown: Bynum is miles and miles ahead of Kendrick Perkins. Perk can defend Bynum well and sometimes shut him down, but otherwise, his skills will always pale in comparison. Still, Perkins does shine through in one area, and that's back to the basket D. However, Bynum will get some opportunities via second chance points, and will take full advantage of pressure drawn by Kobe.
Advantage: Lakers. Perk is a great defender, but Bynum will get his due.
|Pau Gasol||Serge Ibaka|
|"Pow, Kung Pow"||"IBlocka"|
|17.4 Pts, 10.4 Rebs, 3.7 Ast, 1.4 Blk||9.1 Pts, 7.5 Reb, 3.7 Blk, 54% FG%|
The Lowdown: Ibaka gets no rest in this series, as he goes straight from one of the best scoring power forwards in the league in Dirk Nowitzki to the best all-around power forward, Pau Gasol. Gasol not only has a deadly inside game. He can punish you from the top of the arc as well. His passing is spot-on, and he rebounds like Kevin Love. Ibaka will rarely shut this guy down, since he does so much on the floor, but his scoring can be a bit spotty sometimes. If you can keep him in the low teens or get him into foul trouble, it's been a successful day. On the offensive end, Ibaka is pretty much off and on, and whether he does well depends on his ability to hit his occasional mid-range shots and beat Gasol on the boards.
Advantage: Lakers. Gasol has had trouble with Ibaka in the past, but he generally outperforms him in every area but blocks.
|Metta World Peace||Kevin Durant|
|7.7 Pts, 3.4 Reb, 2.2 Ast, 1.1 Stl||28.0 Pts, 8.0 Reb, 3.5 Ast, 1.2 Stl|
The Lowdown: Metta World Peace has been something of an X-Factor for the Lakers during the month of April and in the playoffs. Early in the season, it was looking like World Peace was finally over the hill, and was ready to finish his career as a mediocre backup. Later in the season, he got a second wind, and pretty much became a deciding X-Factor for his team. He showed some of that form\ against the Thunder late this season, before his season ended with a thwack. He was also instrumental in leading the charge over the Nuggets in Game 7. But in this series, I expect him to take more of an offensive back seat and focus on guarding Kevin Durant. His efforts are mostly futile, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a couple of turnover or free throw laden game for KD during this series.
Advantage: Thunder. You know why.
|Kobe Bryant||Thabo Sefolosha|
|27.9 Pts, 5.4 Reb, 4.6 Ast, 1.2 Stl||4.8 Pts, 3.0 Reb, 0.9 Stl, 47% 3PT|
The Lowdown: Again, we have a case of defense versus offense. Thabo Sefolosha is a great defender, and has shut down Kobe a couple of times. But when it comes to the end of the game, there's nobody I'd rather have on my team than Kobe Bryant. All of the doubts are erased, and he pretty much destroys the morale of the other team by hitting impossible shots. Thabo doesn't shoot unless there's a runway open in front of him. Still, he presents a decent challenge for Bryant, especially in the post.
Advantage: Lakers. Again, you know why.
|Ramon Sessions||Russell Westbrook|
|12.7 Pts, 3.8 Rebs, 6.2 Ast, 48.6 3PT%||23.6 Pts, 4.6 Reb, 5.5 Ast, 1.7 Stl|
The Lowdown: Ramon Sessions is a hell of a mid-season pickup, and the Lakers know it. From Derek Fishers stale threes, Sessions was able to make opposing teams change their gameplans by doing things like driving the ball and hitting shots. Fortunately, the Thunder don't have many defensive weaknesses, and Sessions hasn't been much of a threat in the playoffs. Russell Westbrook, meanwhile, has played a lot better during the playoffs, limiting his turnovers and upping his defensive intensity. He'll still sometimes pursue a stupid iso or take a play off, but I'd take him over Ramon Sessions a million times over.
Advantage: Thunder. Again, Westbrook is superior in every area.
|Jordan Hill||Nick Collison, Nazr Mohammed|
|"Waka Flocka"||"Los", "ODB"|
|4.7 Pts, 4.4 Reb||
NC: 4.5 Pts, 4.5 Reb, 1.3 Ast.
NM: 2.7 Pts, 2.7 Reb
The Lowdown: The Lakers win the battle of the starting lineups, but the Thunder crush them then it comes to the bench. Here's example 1. Jordan Hill has been known to have his moments. It's hard to pin what he is and isn't good at, because watching him is like watching a rookie. Sometimes he'll be absolute trash, and sometimes he'll look like he has the potential to be a good player someday. Regardless, Mohammed and Collison have set roles, and generally do a good job of guarding the Lakers' pillars. Jordan Hill will have like one good game.
Advantage: Thunder. I'll take solid defenders over a wildcard any day.
|Devin Ebanks, Matt Barnes||James Harden, Daequan Cook|
|"ATM, Kobe Stopper"||"Jimbo Slice", "Dynamic"|
DE: 4.0 Pts, 2.3 Reb.
MB: 7.8 Pts, 5.5 Reb, 2.0 Ast.
JH: 16.8 Pts, 4.1 Reb 3.7 Ast.
DC: 5.5 Pts, 2.1 Reb.
The Lowdown: James Harden is the clear champion of this group, as he's easily the best scorer, distributor, clutch player, and has a revenge factor for him. Barnes and Cook are pretty much three point specialists, while Devin Ebanks doesn't do much at all, really.
|Steve Blake||Derek Fisher|
|5.2 Pts, 1.6 Reb, 3.3 Ast||5.6 Pts, 1.9 Reb, 2.7 Ast, 92% FT|
The Lowdown: It's threes vs. threes! Fisher and Blake have probably seen a lot of time playing against each other on the practice floor, both don't do much but shoot threes, and both are well past their primes. But Fisher has come alive for the Thunder recently, with a newfound ability to get mid-range jumpers and generate off-ball movement.
Advantage: Thunder. If Fisher plays like he did against the Mavericks, this series is over.
Bottom of the Bench
|Troy Murphy, Christian Eyenga, Andrew Goudelock, Josh McRoberts||Royal Ivey, Reggie Jackson, Lazar Hayward, Cole Aldrich|
|"Horse," "Skyenga," "Mini-Mamba," "McBob"||"Cheese", "Better Basketball", "Zar Zar Binks", "Cole Sore"|
The Lowdown: The only dudes you might see out of these players are Eyenga and Ivey, the earlier for size and the latter for defense. The rest of the guys won't see action unless there's garbage time or an injury.
Advantage: Thunder. The Lakers bottom of the barrel is really the bottom of the barrel. Only Troy Murphy has seen real minutes on another team, and I have doubts about whether the rest of the guys will be in the league in three years.
|Mike Brown||Scott Brooks|
|"All Day, Every Day"||"Scotty"|
Reg. Season: 476-313
1 Eastern Conference Championship
|Reg. Season: 174-125
The Lowdown: Mike Brown has been a great replacement for Phil Jackson, who left last season in disgrace as the Lakers pouted their way out of the playoffs. He's effectively overseen some peripheral roster movement, been willing to bench players when the time calls for it, and not destroyed the formula of success. However, he has had some trouble managing egos. Scott Brooks is what you already know him to be. A somewhat hands-off coach who makes good game-to-game changes, but doesn't call plays very well in-game.
Advantage: Push. Both coaches have their advantages and flaws.
Keys to Winning the Series:
1. Keep a fourth X-Factor in the scoring loop. The Thunder survived an offensively-heavy fdirst round by recognizing the hot hand in their lineup, whether it be Serge Ibaka, Derek Fisher, or even Kendrick Perkins. As long as they can get semi-consistent production out of someone not named Westbrook, Durant, or Harden, they'll be right as rain 99% of the time.
2. Get Gasol and/or Bynum into foul trouble. I'll say it again: Their only backup is Jordan Hill. When you take these guys out of the game, you destroy the very foundation of the Lakers. I say this not only because they account for a good amount of scoring, but also because they pretty much drive the teams efficiency with their rebounds and do an excellent job of clogging the lane.
3. Keep an eye on Metta World Peace. As much as I hate to say it, Kevin Durant is probably the Thunder's greatest defensive weakness, at least from a strictly matchup perspective. World Peace will take full advantage of this, especially when stealing a corner three or running the break. If the Thunder let him go off for too many points, they could quickly find themselves in a deep hole.
4. Close out the fourth quarter. Preferrably with Harden in the lineup. We all remember what happened late this season and in years past when the Thunder have had the Lakers on the brink. The Lakers are an experienced team and know what it takes to win a game. The Thunder's failed late offensive production hasn't been a problem as of late, especially with the Beard on patrol. But the problem still remains in the back of everyone's mind.
5. Don't get caught up in the drama. This series has a lot of emotional questions surrounding it. How serious is Andrew Bynum? Will World Peace be able to handle the inevitable boos? How will Derek Fisher perform against his old team? The key to overcoming these problems is ignoring them, which the Thunder are excellent at. But certain players, like Westbrook and Perkins, can get caught up in their emotions and trigger a technical that might cost the Thunder the game.
Game 1: Monday, May 14th, 8:30 CDT, OKC, TNT
Game 2: Wednesday, May 16th, 8:30 CDT, OKC, TNT
Game 3: Friday, May 18th, 9:30 CDT, LAL, ESPN
Game 4: Saturday, May 19th, 9:30 CDT, LAL, TNT
Game 5: Monday, May 21st, OKC, TNT
Game 6: Wednesday, May 23rd, LAL, TBA
Game 7, Sunday, May 27th, OKC, TNT, TBA
The Thunder win in 5 games. The Lakers are a team of four players right now. Sure, you could say that the Thunder are a team of three, but everybody else on the team has a specific role to fill, and the Thunder have players in the perfect position to stop the best of what the Lakers have to offer. Some of the Laker players don't do much more than fill space, and if one of their pillars fails to hold, things get disastrous. The Lakers will probably pull out a win on the Thunder when they forget out to play in the fourth, but still, I'm confident about the Thunder winning this series.
How do you think the series will go? Vote in the poll, post a comment!