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How would the Lakers match up with the Thunder in the playoffs?

58855209

Standing at center court, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant approached Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant and Thunder guard Russell Westbrook and shook their hands, knowing the defending champions had survived a six-game first-round playoff series that presented plenty of adverse moments. Bryant must have been  aware that any sense of satisfaction in advancing past Oklahoma City would be temporary. The Lakers still had three playoff matchups to handle before winning the 2010 NBA championship.

"I told them they were incredible basketball players, for them to keep working and they're going to be a team we're going to have to deal with for years to come," Bryant told ESPN's Lisa Salters at the time, which summed up well the Lakers' highly competitive six-game series against the youthful and athletic Thunder.

A reunion happened Monday with the Lakers 101-94 victory over Oklahoma City, and the two-time defending champions faced the same problems in defending Westbrook (32 points), ensuring Durant's baskets came with plenty of attempts (24 points on eight-of-24 shooting), plenty of transition baskets (16 points) and the Lakers fighting to hold onto a 15-point third-quarter lead. It featured Bryant barking at teammates to help him defend Westbrook and ensure the offense ran smoothly. It entailed Pau Gasol playing more aggressively to complement Lamar Odom's consistent presence and Andrew Bynum's foul trouble. It required Derek Fisher to post a season-high 15 points. And it required Lakers forward Ron Artest to clock in, as he put it, "double time" on defense, remaining on Durant and also helping out on Westbrook, which provided a good test of his offseason efforts to slim down to 250 pounds and keep up with more agile scorers.

The Lakers (31-12) effort proved enough to record their most impressive victory to date, a claim the team wouldn't acknowledge. But here's one thing they would: The Lakers and Thunder (27-14) are currently locked in as the second and third Western Conference seed and would conceivably meet in the semifinals if the season were to end today. There are 39 more games to allow the Lakers to play out various scenarios, but it still doesn't escape the possibility of a reunion in the 2011 postseason.

"We very easily could," Bryant said.

That's why it's a good time to see how the Lakers would fare against the Thunder should they meet in the playoffs.

58855974Why the Thunder would win: Bryant launched into his teammates at halftime, stressing that it's necessary to treat Westbrook as more than just a role player who occasionally breaks out with a good game. Westbrook's 32 points and 12 assists, his seventh 30-point effort this season and 19th double double, were just the beginning. Durant's 24 points allowed the two to remain on pace as the league's highest-scoring duo (50.8). Serge Ibaka's 11 points and 10 rebounds off the bench gave him his sixth double double of the season. And their 14-5 third-quarter run slashed the Lakers' lead to six points entering the fourth quarter, showing the team's identity remains on keel with last year's playoff team.

"They know exactly what their roles are," Bryant said. "They know exactly what they do. Last year, things were kind of new to them. They had their roles figured out, but I think going through the offseason and coming into this year, they know exactly what they're supposed to do and what they're executing. I think that's the difference."

That's scary considering it took the Lakers six games last season to unseat the Thunder. The Lakers' recent victory against the Thunder shouldn't give the Lakers too much comfort. It's unlikely OKC would match a season-low two-of-22 mark (9.1%) from three-point range. It's possible the Thunder would avoid late-game collapses, such as Jeff Green's missed three-pointer with 59 seconds remaining that would've capped a 9-0 run and brought the deficit to one point, considering they are 15-4 in games decided by seven points or less. OKC would likely respond in appropriate fashion after a Lakers win, knowing it had an 11-2 mark in games after losses. And for reasons including health, fatigue and overall executions, it's probable that matching the Thunder's speed and athleticism would prove too taxing for the Lakers' veteran-laden squad.

"They were running," Artest said. "They were sprinting fast. They were running. I don't know how we kept up, honestly."

58840363Why the Lakers would win

After Fisher rattled off platitudes about the team's ability to close out games, how he wanted to set a tone by taking charge and how he understood that he needed to elevate his role when the time was warranted, a common thread emerged in Fisher's conversation with reporters after the game. That, of course, was the Lakers' experience, which includes Jackson's 11 championships, the five rings for Bryant and Fisher, two for Gasol, Odom and Bynum and a roster that averages at least 8 1/2 seasons in the NBA, with six of them having played more than 10 years.

"It was the difference in us advancing past [the Thunder] in the first round in the playoffs last season," Fisher said. "I think it's something that will bode well for us against every team we face. There are very few teams, with the exception of maybe the Celtics, that I can think of that experience-wise can even come close to matching up in terms of having solid veteran players on their roster," Fisher said. "It makes a huge difference. What you can’t do in speed or athleticism or quickness, having been through the battles and the experiences and the adversity and the situation, it helps you keep the type of composure and poise you need to win big games."

The Lakers demonstrated that numerous times against the Thunder in the 2010 playoffs. They stormed out to an early double-digit lead in Game 1 while OKC felt emotionally overwhelmed with the magnitude of their first playoff game. They retook control of the series in Game 5 after the Thunder gained confidence for tying up the series at 2-2. And the Lakers wasted no time securing a close-out victory in Game 6, which featured Gasol winning the game by tipping in Bryant's missed shot as time expired.

The Lakers' recent matchup with OKC also revealed where the Lakers' experience came in handy. They entered their game against the Thunder with a feeling of uncertainty, considering they blew a double-digit lead to another youthful and athletic team, the Clippers. Their seven-game winning streak featured mostly nondescript wins against lesser teams, and the OKC matchup marked the beginning of a schedule that would mostly feature playoff-caliber teams.

Despite anything thrown the Lakers way, it appeared they felt more in tune with what was needed to prevail. Bryant struck a perfect balance between attacking and facilitating so that the offense would play at its most dangerous. Gasol didn't allow the physical nature of the game to give him an excuse to mentally check out. Artest played with more focus as his matchup with Durant further defined his standing as a defensive player. And they maintained the same composure despite all the challenges the Thunder threw at them, securing their 10th consecutive victory against Oklahoma City at Staples Center.

The advantage of experience and discipline over athleticism and youth may fall away in ensuing seasons. But for now, the Lakers can still enjoy it.

"It raised our level," Bryant said of the Lakers' series last year against Oklahoma City. "Throughout the entire playoffs, we didn't face a team that played with that kind of energy. They played with a lot of energy. For us to step up and match that and go through the rest of the series, I think it was a good start for us."

--Mark Medina

twitter.com/latmedina

E-mail the Lakers blog at mgmedin@gmail.com

Photos, from top: Lakers forward Ron Artest tries to muscle his way past Thunder guard James Harden and forward Nick Collison. Lakers forward Lamar Odom helps teammate Pau Gasol, who went to the floor after a collision with a Thunder player. Guard Kobe Bryant drives to the basket against Thunders forward Jeff Green, left, and Nenad Krstic in Game 2 of the Western Conference playoffs. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

 
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OKC would indeed be a tough playoff matchup. Its a classic matchup of speed vs size. Pau should be the difference in this series with Jeff Green guarding him. Two of the bench matchups are very interesting. LO vs. Serge and Shannon vs Harden.


I'd rather play a less athletic Utah team instead of OKC.

@Johnny V - Funny clip. I didn't see the movie, but I've been a fan of Depp every since Donnie Brasco.


@hobbit - I haven't seen the TV show, but the comic strip is hilarious. I appreciate McGruder's wit.

In order for OKC to beat the Lakers, their supporting cast would have to step up in a big way. The two headed monster of Westbrook and Durant is not enough. As long as the Lakers can limit the OKC role players, the Thunder's chances of beating The Show are not that great, IMO.

Fortunately the Lakers probably won't see OKC in the first round at least.
If they had made a few more of those 3's the other night may have been a different outcome.
Will be interesting to see how the Lakers do against them in OKC.
Those speedy athletic teams give them a tough time, but then, the playoffs are a ways off. I think they'll be a very tough match up and that Bynum staying out of foul trouble will be quite important.

MATCHUP FORECAST . . .


IF BOTH TEAMS were at full strength (no injuries), and that is a BIG IF, then the Lakers would seem to have the advantage in the playoffs.


LAKERS ADVANTAGE IN PLAYOFF B-BALL DYNAMICS...
1. Playoff B-Ball's DNA leans more towards slow-down than fast-paced basketball: AD LAKERS

2. Playoff B-Ball draws on experience. AD LAKERS

3. Playoff B-Ball gives home team a head start in series (games 1 AND 2). AD LAKERS


LAKERS ADVANTAGE IN MATCHUPS...
1. Don't forget what Matt Barnes brings to the table. His skill set is a great asset against OKC.

2. Bynum/Gasol/Odom ~ Krystic/Ibaka/Collison is not even close.

3. Westbrook & Durant v. Kobe & Artest requires A LOT OF ENERGY by OKC to get scores. Sefalosha & OKC center v. Kobe & Gasol/Odom is nothing special to Lakers.


BUT...
1. Injuries more likely to Lakers than OKC (age).
2. Hunger more present in OKC than Lakers.


I can see the Lakers v. OKC playoff history unfolding along similar lines to the Lakers v. Sac Kings ten years ago. One or two key plays here and there are what ultimately separated the teams. Who do you honestly believe can be expected to make those key plays?


LakerMike

MY APOLOGIES TO ANDREW BYNUM (and LakerTom)...


Previous post should have included Drew in Matchups point #3.


LakerMike

Dallas will be fired up for the game tonite. Tyson Chandler is coming back after a bout with the flu, this will be Dirk's 3rd game back, they're trying to break a losing streak and they're pointing to this game as the one that can get them back on track. Yep, the Mavs will be a desperate team tonite.


It's always fun to beat Cuban, especially in his house. We know that over the summer he boasted that this team could beat the Lakers. And recently he talked about PJ being a "boy toy".


Today's song is a little old school hip hop just for Cuban.

Run DMC - You Talk To Much

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EheLN-MDzrA&ob=av3el

Laker Mike,

Good points, but for Point #1, last year those games against OKC were pretty fast paced, especially in OK.

Point #2, I don't think it's safe to assume the Lakers will have HCA if they play OKC.

OKC could win their division and finish with a better record than the Lakers. So if the Spurs hold it together OKC could be a #2 seed, the Lakers #3.

Playing OKC without HCA would be a significant challenge.

In honor of Red's victory cigar, the Lakers should smoke Cuban tonight.

LRob,

Funny song for Cuban.

Here's one with a good collection of some of the all time greats artists all in one place. A little long but if you want to see them all perform you gotta watch it through.


http://dalesdesigns.net/rock-on.htm

Monday night was a microcosm of what the playoffs rematch will look like and I think a 7 game series will look similar to what we saw last year against them. They are a poor 3 point shooting team and don't have a low post presence. As we have seen for years, the playoffs are a different style of game and, even with the improving Bruin Blur that is Russell Westbrook, their transition game won't win them a playoff series against these grizzled champions.

At least that's how I hope it plays out!

GOOD MORNING LAKER FAMILY...

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Defendin' the Rim

OKC won't have the layup party they had MLK day, come the playoffs.

Protecting the rim will continue to be a foul fest until the April games begin when refs have more of a tendency to "let 'em play". Still don't understand how it's always the 7 footer's foul when the point guard jumps into his chest.

Pau looks soft when he plays matador D but he's learned what Andrew is now so frustrated with: contesting layups attracts whistles. A few adjustments and playoff officiating will be to the Lakers advantage vs OKC.

Roll call ... checking in!!!

I agree with LRob. The Mavs are on such a down spin that no game is more ripe for their turn around than tonight. Dirk is back and playing well and, I'm sorry, but they should be able to figure out how to play well without Caron Butler. If they can't, Rick Carlisle should be fired. Combine that with the Lakers tendency to get complacent when they come up against a team that is "ripe for the taking," and the result could easily be a loss. I will be happy with a split over the next two games because Denver is in the same position as Dallas, only for a different reason. Let's see if the Lakers can keep their focus from Monday night. They didn't practice yesterday, so I have my doubts.

1-2-3 RING! #17 coming up STRONG!!

@ART-FL

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Laker Mike,

Good points, but for Point #1, last year those games against OKC were pretty fast paced, especially in OK.

Point #2, I don't think it's safe to assume the Lakers will have HCA if they play OKC.

OKC could win their division and finish with a better record than the Lakers. So if the Spurs hold it together OKC could be a #2 seed, the Lakers #3.

Playing OKC without HCA would be a significant challenge.

Posted by: Art - FL Laker Fan | January 19, 2011 at 09:22 AM

--------


#1 - You are right about those first couple of games in OKC... frightening track meets! I remember Game 5 was a blow-out win by Lakers in LA, but if memory serves me right, I think Lakers won Games 1,2,5 with scores in the 80's-90's. I see them better prepared and able to impose their will again, keeping the pace down. BUT YOU ARE RIGHT about OKC pushing the pace.


#2 - I assume Lakers would have homecourt advantage. Your questioning this made me stop and think. I checked out OKC record. So far this season they are just like Lakers against teams with winning records (.500), going 8-8. If OKC finished higher than Lakers, I would be surprised.


I totally agree that HCA is probably most important against OKC in the Western Conf. That crowd is unique in how it effects the game.


LakerMike

@LEWSTRS....Thanx for the rollcall!! Great job!!

@LRob...nice choice for Mark Cuban! I know it's his team and all, but I wouldn't want my boss breathing down my neck while I'm working. I guess that's the price Dallas pays for him signing those mega-paychecks! Go sit in the owner's box, Mark!

@Tom Daniels...."the Lakers should smoke Cuban tonight."
Very clever, sir!!

In order for OKC to beat the Lakers, their supporting cast would have to step up in a big way. The two headed monster of Westbrook and Durant is not enough. As long as the Lakers can limit the OKC role players, the Thunder's chances of beating The Show are not that great, IMO.

Posted by: bronxlakerfan | January 19, 2011 at 08:51 AM


Of course in any playoff series, you give a fighting chance to a dog. Exactly word for word what I would say. In a previous post, I mentioned, yeah, I mentioned, right Sean. OKC needs a big man, who can score and rebound like a beast, especially in the halfcourt game, desperately. Now, Samuel Dalembert would be interesting, if you paired him with Serge Ibaka, that would be a tough, defensive, frontcourt, not a lot of scoring.

Sam Presti, is one of the most intelligent minds in the NBA. Given the salary cap constraints, I really doubt Presti would be willing to give Jeff Green, the same money that Durant and Westbrook, get. Especially, considering the more pressing areas of need. Zach Randolph, who I mentioned in a previous post, would be a great addition to their lineup from a big man perspective. Randolph, Ibaka, Aldrich, Kristic (maybe).

If Presti did give Green what he wanted, their are a myriad of less for more big men out there. Carl Landry, Reggie Evans (definitely an upgrade), Spencer Hawes.

THINGS I HATE...


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LakerMike

When I think Cuban...This comes to mind...lol

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rAV3bOJaQuY

Fitting for the Mavs owner...

sean,

I thought OKC might make a run at landing Shaq this past summer, that would have been interesting having him beef up their middle even if just off the bench.

What strikes me as odd about Monday's game is that the Lakers free throw woes in that game continued like last years playoff series. However, the Lakers' free throw shooting this year as a team is very much improved from last year.

The Thunder's hustle and the Lakers poor shooting both from the field and the line last year (for the regular season and into that series) made it a series. This year both are substantially better for the Lakers.

Unless the Lakers continue to shoot poorly from the line against this team (The Thunder seems to have the Best Free Throw D against the Lakers) and continue to make the unforced turnovers that they did in Monday's game, the series will NOT be as tough as last season.

Point in fact: Last season the Thunder snuck up on a lot of teams because they were an unproven commodity. This season teams are prepared for them and so too are the Lakers...

Go Lakers!!!!!!


I can see the Lakers v. OKC playoff history unfolding along similar lines to the Lakers v. Sac Kings ten years ago. One or two key plays here and there are what ultimately separated the teams. Who do you honestly believe can be expected to make those key plays?

Posted by: LakerMike | January 19, 2011 at 09:11 AM

To each his own, LakerMike. Sacramento had nowhere near the dynamic scorer that OKC ha in KD and Chris Webber doesn't count, his job was to do a lot more than score. And while Mike Bibby was an effective PG, his skill is nowhere near Russell Westbrook at this point, in their respective careers.

sean,

I thought OKC might make a run at landing Shaq this past summer, that would have been interesting having him beef up their middle even if just off the bench.

Posted by: Art - FL Laker Fan | January 19, 2011 at 10:06 AM

Hey, Art- I would share the same kind of interest with an experiment like that.

Let's be honest here: The only team in the West that the Lakers *really* need to worry about is San Antonio.

Current standings:

1. Spurs -- Always a threat. Well-coached, disciplined, experienced. Dangerous.
2. Lakers
3. OKC -- A great playoff series. Lakers have all of the advantages listed in previous posts.
4. Utah -- The Lakers own Utah.
5. Dallas -- The Lakers own Dallas. Dirk is a consummate choker.
6. NO -- Dangerous... but not really.
7. Denver -- The Lakers own Denver.
8. Portland -- No real center. Can't match up in the slow-it-down playoffs.

Go Lake Show!

bla bla bla....


It's all about the REFS. Just look at what they did towards the end of game 6 last season.


We can beat them EASY.


Well, the only problem would be Westbrook at this point in time. Things can change, but as for now Artest has Durant on his pocket but we have no answers for Westbrook, or even any of those quick guards like Russel or Rose.


Oh, and what they can do if we keep feeding our bigs in the paint? Bynum & Gasol are just too much for their length.


Lakers in 4-5, IF the refs call it fair.

most the major pieces for both teams are still intact.. biggest difference between this and last year is our improved BENCH.... last year our bench got smoked by their bench.. this year should be an entirely different outcome.

Lakers in 4-5, IF the refs call it fair.
Posted by: Magic Phil | January 19, 2011 at 10:24 AM

agree but thats asking for a lot. last year shouldve been 4-1 but refs stretched it with very questionable whistles in game 4.

FAIR NBAREFS = oxymoron

also would be a lot more worried without artest.

Unless the Lakers continue to shoot poorly from the line against this team (The Thunder seems to have the Best Free Throw D against the Lakers) and continue to make the unforced turnovers that they did in Monday's game, the series will NOT be as tough as last season.
Posted by: The Triangulator
===================

Could it be that the high energy, fast pace the Thunder play wear down the Lakers to an extent?
Tired legs result in more missed free throws and more turnovers?

I'm not claiming this is the case, just wondering if it might be a factor in the Thunders great Free Throw defense against the Lakers.

i'm not a boston hater; just a huge fan of the nba and i simply can't wait for the matchup on the 30th. if there is ever a statement game to be played so far this season, that's going to be the one for me! let's face it: that game is going to be a glimpse into the FINALS.

GO LAKERS & IN BUSS WE TRUST!!

The Lakers would win, but they would be in trouble because beside Kobe they have no one that can slow Westbrook down. They need to add a defensive guard like Tony Allen. Lakers would win because the Thunder can't control the boards, and credit Lakers defense but they shoot horrible vs Lakers. Last year until the Lakers reach the finals against the Celts no team gave them a tougher match-up.

The Lakers would win, but they would be in trouble because beside Kobe they have no one that can slow Westbrook down. They need to add a defensive guard like Tony Allen. Lakers would win because the Thunder can't control the boards, and credit Lakers defense but they shoot horrible vs Lakers. Last year until the Lakers reach the finals against the Celts no team gave them a tougher match-up.

Posted by: Moxe | January 19, 2011 at 11:31 AM

Matt Barnes has the quickness and the smarts to guard Westbrook.

Based on the game Monday, the Lakers will take OKC by thunder. They played decently, tho not extravagantly, keeping their batteries charging and their wheels rested enough to again eliminate this team by Apr-May in 5 or 6.

If anything, the OKC has stagnated. The Lakers need to continue to coast and rest for the Spurs, a 47-minute opponent, and the Eastern whoevers.

They're right on track, and they know it.

has anyone ever thought about the possibility that dwight howard might join okc with durant and westbrook? that's going to be one bad ass team with the added defense from dwight. also, dwight never demand the ball, so he fits in perfectly.


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