Words. Chantay Jordan
Can the Oklahoma City Thunder be the 2007 Golden State Warriors? Probably not, but history shows that a #1 vs. #8 Western Conference playoff matchup can get really interesting. In 2007, the 67-win Dallas Mavericks swept the season series against the Warriors, only to go down 4-2 in the first round against them. The Thunder are playing great basketball right now and have truly come together as a group as the season’s progressed, while the Lakers may have lost their identity and are certainly losing their health.
So what happens when the Los Angeles Lakers meet with the Oklahoma City Thunder in a seven game playoff series? As the series is set to tipoff today, many questions and concerns remain. One revolves around the state of the Lakers and the fight of the Thunder. If the Lakers underestimate Kevin Durant and the Thunder, then they may be in for a big surprise. Kobe said it himself, “If we don’t come in ready, Oklahoma will beat us.” Don’t get it twisted. Phil Jackson will get the Lakers to the second round, but it will take seven games against the Thunder for them to do so.
Here are four things to consider before writing the Thunder off:
1. The Lakers have been battling injuries all season. The Black Mamba is releasing lethal venom in the form of another great season, but not only is he comparatively old when matched against the 21-year-old scoring champion, he is also nursing that nagging finger injury on his shooting hand, back spasms and an ailing knee. Also, Andrew Bynum has sat out the last three weeks with a strained Achilles tendon, and it may take him time to get readjusted to the offense. Plus, Ron Artest just recently twisted his ankle.
2. The Thunder did drop the season series against the Lakers 3-1, but Los Angeles has not been playing championship basketball since before the All-Star break. They have no momentum going into the playoffs, while OKC is on the up and up. It’s clear that the young Thunder are going to be pushing the ball all game, which may cause problems for a Lakers team with an elder point guard in Derek Fisher and a big frontcourt of Bynum and Pau Gasol. You have to wonder if the going-through-the-motions Lakers have what it takes to repeat. Sure they almost won 60 games, but the Lakers have left many weaknesses exposed that can be easily exploited by a hungrier, younger and more motivated team like the Thunder.
3. Surprisingly, there is not much statistically that separates the Lakers from the Thunder in terms of defensive and offensive efficiency. Both teams average 101 points per game, and both teams pull down around 44 rebounds per game. The Lakers shot much better from three-land in their four games against the Thunder this season, but for the season, they both shoot 34%. The Lakers average just one more assist per game, but the Thunder shoot 80% at the line compared to the Lakers’ 76%. Also, Kevin Durant shoots a league best, 10.3 free throws a game. Just don’t talk to Phil Jackson about that…
4. KD is the scoring champion and has a thirst for L.A. blood stemming from the recent comments by Jackson. An angry Durantula could be as scary as an actual tarantula, and a bit much for Artest to contain. Durant is absolutely playing out of his mind coming off his first All-Star appearance and scoring title. What more can you ask for? You’re going into a first round match up against the defending champions who are not only highly favored to win the series, but maybe even sweep.
At the end of the day, the Lakers are an arrogant team, and the confidence they’ve displayed (even while sputtering to close the regular season) forced L.A. Times writer T.J. Simers to write about why the “Lakers’ confidence is causing some confusion.” This matchup will prove to be no walk in the park, especially with the way the Lakers’ bench has been playing. While L.A. should win this series in five or six, we also said that about the Mavericks in 2007…
What do you think? Will the Lakers win the series? And in how many games?
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DIMEMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.