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Thunder vs. Lakers: Time For the Real James Harden to Stand Up (2012 WCSF Game 5 Preview)

Harden: You're telling me this isn't a foul?!
Harden: You're telling me this isn't a foul?!

Gamethread Tonight at 8:30, and we have a video pre-game show tonight at 7:30 on Spreecast! Come join in!

Records: The Los Angeles Lakers (#3) vs The Oklahoma City Thunder (#2)

Time: 8:30 PM Central Daylight Time

Place: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

TV: Turner Network Television

Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1), KSPN 710 Los Angeles

Enemy Blog(s): Silver Screen and Roll, With Malice, Forum Blue and Gold

Previous Meetings: Game 1, Game 2, Game 3, Game 4 (Thunder Lead Series 3-1)

In Game 3, we got a glimpse of what Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant could do. They took over the game in the second half, exploited bad matchups, and willed the Thunder to an amazing comeback win in Staples. I'm glad they did what they had to do, but that type of offense just isn't sustainable. We saw it fail so many times against the Grizzlies and Mavericks in last year's playoffs. We'd have second halves where there would only be one or two shots not taken by Durant or Westbrook, and the offense stalled out like a 1947 Packard at the end of the game. The reasons are obvious: The other team remembers that they don't have to defend anyone else, and pressures Westbrook and Durant into tough shot and turnover oblivion. Now, I'm glad that Durant and Westbrook force a few shots, because it just has to be done. But they need to get other guys scoring in order to free them up most of the time.

How does this happen? I'll tell you. James Harden. He wasn't a big factor last season, but he's had a breakout year in 2011-2012. He's become known for getting to the line consistently and great spurts of offense when the Thunder need them the most. In other words, he's the only other guy on the team capable of drawing pressure from Durant and Westbrook, and forcing the Lakers' flawed set of backcourt defenders to a head. If he can't get it going in Game 5, Mike Brown could easily switch Kobe Bryant over to Russell Westbrook and halt the Thunder's offense right in its' tracks.

I know you could talk about Serge Ibaka or even Derek Fisher and Daequan Cook, but those players can only score on set plays, and aren't really capable of creating for themselves or drawing pressure. Quite simply, they shoot when they're open.

On the Lakers side of things, they're going to be looking for more offensive production out of Pau Gasol. Andrew Bynum had a bit of a renaissance in Game 4, abusing Kendrick Perkins down low and even hitting a few jumpers. But Pau Gasol has become more passive as the series has gone on. He still plays extremely smart, but last night he had a few more turnovers and fouls than usual. He wasn't really able to create many opportunities, and touched the ball less than Metta World Peace. I'm going to sound like a broken record, but if the Lakers want to win, they need all three of their big three to bring something to the table.

All in all, I expect this game to be over very quickly. The Lakers aren't a team that takes being down well, and we've seen them crumble under the pressure of an early exit in the past. I know I'm sounding like a Laker hater right now, but the image of Phil Jackson's last game forever sticks out in my mind.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 111, Los Angeles Lakers 87