The Lakers went the distance with the Nuggets. None of us expected that but what’s important for the Lakers is that they are past that. They now face the Oklahoma City Thunder in a much-anticipated match-up.
And, really, there’s reason to be pessimistic about this for the Lakers. There are still times where the team isn’t fully engaged (other than Kobe Bryant). Pau Gasol is turning in more and more bad games and that’s a legitimate worry. Ramon Sessions has turned out to be a nervous wreck so far in the postseason. And outside of those four guys, the Lakers have a thin roster.
So you wonder what team shows up for L.A. When their main three guys are on, they’re hard to match up against. Metta World Peace/Ron Artest is back… and it seemed like he didn’t miss a beat when he returned in Game 7 against Denver. Now the Lakers are hoping that Matt Barnes finally makes buckets and that Steve Blake continues to make big shots for them.
Stopping the Thunder is another story. The Thunder bigs in the middle aren’t expected to score but to keep the Laker bigs out of the paint. Nazr Mohammed will probably be asked to do a lot of the heavy lifting in the defensive end if Kendrick Perkins can’t go. Serge Ibaka is much improved offensively. While Kevin Durant will try to be neutralized by MWP/RA, who’s going to stop James Harden? I’m sure Kobe will try to stop all-world Russell Westbrook but asking Sessions or Blake to stop Harden is a task all on itself. Is this where Devin Ebanks will be asked to stop Harden or Durant, if Artest has to switch off?
Really though, the Thunder are a souped-up version of the Denver Nuggets. Well, except that the Thunder have three stars on that team. And we know that the Thunder are going to break the Lakers on transition.
Too much for L.A. has to go right. We know Kobe Bryant will do his thing. But will Pau Gasol do his? Will Bynum focus on basketball? Will Ramon Sessions lose that stage fright? Will Matt Barnes get going offensively? Will MWP/RA not do anything dumb? Will the bench produce? Can they control the tempo?
If all of those go right, then the Lakers have a chance. But as is, I see them going down to the Thunder in six.
Believe me; I really want to be wrong.