Western Conference Scouting Report: Oklahoma City Thunder
This is the first part of a series breaking down the Lakers' potentially troublesome Western Conference opponents. This analysis is based on the team's current roster and doesn't equate how a new collective-bargaining agreement would alter it.
Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
Lakers' record versus OKC last season: 2-1
How Thunder fared last season: Lost in five games to Dallas Mavericks in Western Conference Finals.
Why OKC is a threat to the Lakers: The Thunder's development has taken a linear progression. First, the likes of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka gave the Lakers fits in a six-game first-round series in 2010. Then they acquired championship experience and toughness in Kendrick Perkins and advanced to the Western Conference Finals.
There are plenty of reasons to think the Thunder will improve besides its young talent level. Durant and Westbrook will have stronger chemistry after Westbrook took a large volume of shots in last post-season at Durant's expense. Ibaka's conditioning will remain sharp after playing for Spain in the FIBA European Championships. So will James Harden's, who spent much of his summer playing in the Drew League.
Why the Lakers are a threat to the Thunder: The Lakers have always had trouble keeping up with Oklahoma City's speed and athleticism, but they succeeded because of their experience level. An off-season of rest and the Lakers' early playoff exit will fuel one last burst of energy into them securing superiority over OKC. Rest and motivation will provide a factor for all teams, but it'll prove more critical against the Thunder because of its distinguishable advantage in youth and quickness.
It's also too presumptuous to think the Thunder will iron out its chemistry issues in just one season. Young teams take time to reach the championship level. Just ask Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher about their experience with the Lakers in the mid-'90s.
Verdict: Either scenario is plausible. The Lakers will remain superior if they stay healthy and minimize the transition period during Mike Brown's first year. The Thunder will take the throne if the team improves its chemistry.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times