The Lakers have a serious challenge ahead of them: The Oklahoma City Thunder.
LA is set to face the Thunder in the best of seven series, which begins tonight with game one in Oklahoma. Tip off happens around 6:30 P.M. PST in Oklahoma.
And while we'd all like to believe that the Lakers have a legitimate shot against OKC, I think it's obvious why the Thunder present such a difficult matchup for the Lakeshow.
1.) Talent. 2.) Andrew Bynum's Attitude. 3.) Fatigue
First of all, the Thunder are a better version of the same team they had when the Lakers beat them in the playoffs a few years back. And the Lakers, a worse version.
OKC's guard play could be the best in the league. Durant, Westbrook, and Harden have all improved since their series against Los Angeles in 2010. Durant won the scoring title for the third year in a row, Westbrook has grown as a better point guard on both sides of the ball and Harden was just awarded this year's NBA Six Man of the Year. They aren't exactly shabby down low either; with Nick Collison, Serge Ibaka, and Kendrick Perkins who can all match up against most post players in the league.
And while the Lakers have arguably the league's best player in Kobe Bryant, they have an older version now than the guy who faced the Thunder in 2010. A version that can't do it on his own and needs help from the other four guys offensively; help he hasn't been getting. Bynum and Gasol alike played mediocre at best against Denver. The same goes for Blake, Sessions, Barnes and Ebanks. No one really, other than Kobe, brought any sort of offensive threat against the Nuggets and they're going to need to bring it if they expect to beat OKC; or even come close for that matter.
Secondly, and maybe even more important, is the mental matchup between the two teams.
It's no secret that the Lakers have had way more problems than the Thunder in the locker room this season. We all know how unstable Metta World Peace has been but at least he performs. It's Andrew Bynum who has been a notorious head case; and none of us know if he's going to come to play. On some nights he's all over the place; blocking shots, rebounding and scoring. On those nights he looks like the best center in basketball. But lately, these games are few and far between. What's been more common is a lack of energy and will to win; a poor attitude and lack of effort. I've noticed this attitude to be contagious; when Bynum doesn't show up, Gasol has a tough time, Kobe is forced to try and do more than he should, and Coach Brown seems to lose control of the game. If Bynum doesn't change the attitude he had against Denver, the Lakers will be swept in 4.
The Thunder, conversely, are playing more like a team than ever. If you watch Kevin Durant when he's not in the game, you see a guy clapping for his team constantly; you see a guy that's the first off the bench to slap hands with his teammates; you see a guy that leads by example. An example that the others follow. There's no question the Thunder have the mental advantage too.
Lastly, the Lakers definitely have to be more tired than the Thunder. They are coming off only a few days of rest whereas Oklahoma City has had over a week to practice and prepare, after their first round sweep of the Mavericks. Kobe has battled the flu over the course of their seven games against Denver which could be another reason for some increased fatigue. The Lakers are really going to have to bring a lot of energy if they anticipate giving the well-rested Thunder a game tonight in Oklahoma.
It's also worth noting that the Thunder took two out of the three games against the Lakers this season. And in the game the Lakers won: OKC was without James Harden and it still took LA double-overtime to beat them.
As much as I want the party in LA to continue, I feel like this series could be over in 5.
Questions or comments?? Get at me Hoopsvibers!
Image source: AP Images