NBA Playoff Series Preview and Pick: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder have officially kicked off what is one of the most anticipated series' of the 2012 NBA Playoffs. It's not just because of the big names that are involved either, even though we do get to see players like Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, James Harden, and Metta World Peace all go at it, but also because both of these teams have serious goals this season of taking down the NBA Championship. While Game 1 has officially come and gone, and it wasn't a pretty one for the Lakers, it's time to give an in-depth look at the series and make a prediction about who I think will get the job done when all is said and done, and also how many games the series will go.
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Yes, the Thunder did win Game 1 by an impressive 29 points and looked to be much the better team, but the Lakers were coming off of a tough seven game series, while the Thunder had a nice long layoff after sweeping the Dallas Mavericks in four straight games to start off their postseason. I think that the Lakers are going to be able to make this a series, and if it didn't last six games I'd be very shocked. Don't forget that Kobe Bryant is still one of the best players in the game and that he's going to be all-in to try to get that championship ring this season.
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There are key factors on both teams that need to be focused on, and for the Thunder it will be the players other than Durant and Westbrook. While these two are going to take plenty of shots and get plenty of time to handle the ball, the team is going to need other players to step up. This will include the likes of James Harden and Serge Ibaka primarily, but they are going to need players to do the important jobs of shutting down Gasol and Bynum as well. This is where Kendrick Perkins, Ibaka, and even Nick Collison will come into play for them. If they can get consistent performances from these players then the Thunder will not only be poised to take down this series, but also to potentially win the NBA Championship this year.
For the Lakers it comes down to those two big men inside in Gasol and Bynum. Kobe Bryant is going to get his and will be a leader throughout, but they are going to need that same effort that the two big men put up in Game 7 of the Nuggets' series if they want to beat the Thunder. Gasol and Bynum both seem to have different issues where Gasol sometimes manages to almost get lost during the game and not stay involved enough, and Bynum simply over-does it at times. The Lakers will also need either Ramon Sessions or Steve Blake to step up on both offense and defense to get the ball to the open player, but most importantly to slow down players like Russell Westbrook as well.
This is going to be one heck of a series, and while I do think that the Thunder are going to win both games in Oklahoma City, I think that the Lakers get it done in the Staples Center. I'm expecting it to go to seven games because I can't see a match-up between two superstars like Durant and Kobe really going any other way. Watch the games in this series because each one of them should be fun. I'm going with the Thunder to move on to the Western Conference Finals though.
Pick: Oklahoma City Thunder in Seven Games