This is the best time in basketball the playoffs. The Los Angeles Lakers begin the defense of their title at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder; an excellent young athletic 50-win team. The Lakers now have the luxury of focusing on one team.
Head Coach Phil Jackson, immediately started ‘working the officials’ about the large number of foul calls going to Kevin Durant. The league deemed the statements or questioning the officials in any way inappropriate, and slapped Jackson on the hand with a fine telling Phil to break out the checkbook and scratch a check to be donated to charity. However, Kevin Durant took the bait, decided to respond, stating that he wasn’t happy and viewed the comments as disrespectful. The Zen master had gotten into Durant’s head; making the $35, 000 fine money well spent.
The Thunder are an athletic young team that likes to get out in transition. The Lakers must get back in transition, control the tempo and limit the opportunities this team has to run. The Lakers have to force the Thunder to make plays in the half court offense.
The quickness of Russell Westbrook will be an issue; he had two solid games against the Lakers as well as two less than stellar games. The game-plan defending Westbrook has to be to keep him from attacking the basket, stop the dribble penetration and force him to beat you by knocking down shots on the perimeter.
Kevin Durant won the scoring title this year averaging 30 points per game, he will be a problem. The NBA does a good job of marketing players and you will hear over and over that this series is Kobe Bryant vs. Kevin Durant. The bigger match up will be Kevin Durant vs. Ron Artest. This defensive assignment is simply one of the reasons Artest is a Laker.
Artest is well versed in guarding an opponent’s best player. Durant is averaging slightly above 25 points per game against the Lakers; Ron has to make him work for everything he gets and hold him under his average. Durant is an excellent player that does a lot of damage off of screens. Durant has the luxury of consistently being the beneficiary of four players setting screens for him to provide an open shot.
The Lakers need a healthy Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum, both players will play and become huge factors in this series. Thabo Sefolosha is an elite defender that came to the NBA as a professional. As good of a defender, as he is, Sefolosha will be the first of many to attempt to slow down Kobe Bryant and fail.
The rested Black Mamba will not be denied nor will he allow his Lakers to lose!
The Lakers are 38-12 with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol in the lineup. They will use its size advantage and force the Thunder to defend them in the painted area. Bynum was big in the three games of this series that he played and smart money says he will be again.
Oklahoma City Thunder center Nenad Kristic missed the last three games of the regular season with a bruised knee, but will play. The Lakers will establish both Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol in the painted area and destroy the interior defense of the Thunder. Due to the Sasha Vujacic injury and the athleticism of Oklahoma City, Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown will play bigger roles in this series.
Bynum’s return to the starting lineup places Lamar Odom back into the role of being the X-Factor for the Lakers and increasing the bench production. In the end, the Lakers reserves have to outscore the Thunder’s reserves.
The Lakers will use excellent ball movement and excellent player movement to find a high percentage shot. The Lakers need to communicate on defense, double-team and trap Durant to get the ball out of his hands to force someone else to beat you. This is the time to see the Lakers step their game up and play with passion on every possession.
Lakers will win this series in five games.
Tip-off: 12:00 PM PST
- Los Angeles: ABC
- Oklahoma City: ABC
- Los Angeles: AM570 KLAC (Spero Dedes & Mychal Thompson)
- Oklahoma City: 640 AM & 98.1 FM (Matt Pinto)
- Ron Artest (Left Heel Bruise/Sprained Left Thumb)
- Shannon Brown (Sprained Right Thumb)
- Kobe Bryant (Avulsion Fracture, Right Index Finger)
- Andrew Bynum (Left Achilles Strain)
- Sasha Vujacic (Severely Sprained Left Ankle) Out
- Luke Walton (Pinched Nerve, Back)
- Jordan Farmar (Strained Hamstring)
- D.J. Mbenga (Eye Surgery) Out
* Nenad Kristic ( Bruised Knee) Listed as Day-to-Day