Los Angeles Lakers: Series Preview

First Look: Lakers vs. Oklahoma City

May, 13, 2012
5/13/12
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Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
High on the list of intriguing storylines in this series will be the battle between the NBA's two leading scorers.

The prospect of facing the Oklahoma City Thunder in the postseason has for most of the season conjured incredibly pessimistic images for Lakers fans. As the regular season wound down you could practically hear Adrian's pre-Drago speech to Rocky ringing throughout the city as most prayed the Lakers would leap through whatever logistical hoops required to avoid the Thunder until the Western Conference finals. But steadily the Lakers built momentum, solving some of their road woes and finding some actual support in the supporting cast.

Two games into their first-round matchup against Denver, things looked even better. Four games after that, they seemed much, much worse. Saturday, a strong performance pushed the Lakers through Game 7, finally earning a date with those very Thunder, starting Monday night in Oklahoma City. Nobody, save those viewing the world entirely through purple-and-gold-colored glasses, will make them a favorite -- nor should they. But despite the inconsistent effort vs. Denver, it's not out of the question the Lakers, through strong post play, attention to detail defensively, the intensity shown eliminating the Nuggets, and perhaps a healthy dose of ultra-rustic Siberian training can give OKC a genuine test.

Maybe even pull the upset?

The series features serious star power, with each team trotting out a high-end big three. Oklahoma City's combo of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden brings, among other things, scoring punch and athleticism, while the Lakers counter with the length, experience and skill of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Lovers of subplots and intrigue will have a field day, too, starting with the NBA's two leading scorers facing off in a battle of old vs. new guard. Metta World Peace and Harden will share the floor for the first time since this happened. Bynum and Gasol each have narratives to repair.

And, of course, the Lakers face a motivated Derek Fisher in a playoff series. The citizenry fears getting .4'd.

With all that in mind, here's a first look at the matchup ...

SEASON SERIES -- Oklahoma City 2-1

1. Thunder 100, Lakers 85 (Feb. 23, Chesapeake Energy Arena): The Lakers finished the first quarter up 23-19, but were outscored by 19 the rest of the way. Bryant finished 7-of-24 from the field, while Durant popped for 33.
2. Thunder 102, Lakers 93 (March 29, Staples Center): Again, L.A. got up early but was thoroughly outclassed after the first quarter. Durant and Harden were relatively quiet, but Westbrook went off for 36. Again, Kobe struggled (7-of-25).
3. Lakers 114, Thunder 106, 2 OT (April 22, Staples Center): The Lakers limited OKC to 14 fourth-quarter points, erasing an 18-point deficit and pushing the game to OT. Kobe again struggled overall (9-of-26), but hit huge shots late and ate up Westbrook (3-of-22) defensively. Big games for Gasol and the Lakers' bench.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Nick Young
PTS AST STL MIN
17.9 1.5 0.7 28.3
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Hill 7.4
AssistsK. Bryant 6.3
StealsK. Bryant 1.2
BlocksW. Johnson 1.0