The dudes at ESPN Los Angeles’s Land O’Lakers are super good dudes so we swapped a set of five questions and here are their responses. You can check mine at their place.
1. I think most would agree the West is chasing OKC. Do you think the Lakers as they’re presented now could beat OKC in a seven-game series?
Logically, no. The Thunder look better on paper and have cobbled together a notably stronger season. Like many, I predicted they’d win the west. However, L.A. has owned OKC over the last few seasons. Counting their 2010 playoff series, the Lakers are 9-4 against the Thunder over the previous two seasons, which perhaps speaks to an inherently good matchup. Similar to how the Bobcats were an inexplicable riddle for the Lakers.
Still, it does feel like something’s about to give.
2) Kobe guarding Russell Westbrook — good or bad thing?
More a necessary evil, I’m guessing. It would be preferable if Bryant didn’t have to expend so much energy shadowing somebody of Westbrook’s speed and athleticism, especially in a season where he’s logging heavy minutes. But I can’t imagine that won’t be required at some point. The key will be how many minutes Bryant will be afforded on another assignment. I imagine Derek Fisher will pick up Westbrook to begin the game, Steve Blake at times, and Mike Brown will try to maintain those matchups for as long as possible. The Lakers have to avoid turnovers and bad shots, both of which create transition opportunities where Westbrook can dust everyone. The more the Lakers control the game’s pace, the more time Bryant can spend away from Westbrook.
But again, it’s an inevitability.
3)Both Westbrook and Kevin Durant have performed well against the Lakers, but Westbrook seems to often put up big numbers. Who do the Lakers fear more, Westbrook or Durant?
I guess Durant, but in a roundabout way. I actually don’t think KD’s been that great against the Lakers. If you check his career splits, some of his lowest numbers (in particular, shooting percentage) come against the Lakers. And much of the credit goes to Metta World Peace. Back in the “Ron Artest” days, he consistently make life miserable for The Durantula. Physicality, size, fast hands, and leeway from the refs were combined to spectacular effect, and Durant rarely found a comfort zone.
But Durant’s now in better sync with Kendrick Perkins, whose capable of setting excellent screens to spring him. Plus, to be honest, MWP isn’t defending on a regular basis like that Artest fella. There have been scattered games, most recently against Paul Pierce and Danillo Gallinari. But those showings have been few and far between. MWP hasn’t necessarily been bad on D, but at his best, he often changes games purely through his work on that side of the ball. Certainly that’s been the case while checking Durant, which in my opinion is the biggest reason the Lakers have enjoyed success against them.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to truly believe in Metta right now, which creates an undercurrent of fear with The Durantula.
4) OKC acquired Kendrick Perkins for exactly these type of games. Compared to other frontlines, how does OKC’s interior duo of Perkins and Serge Ibaka match up with Bynum and Gasol?
About as well as any, I’d think. Perkins and Ibaka aren’t just good defenders, but they complement each other well. Perkins specializes in bodying big men, and that physicality can wear on the guy he’s checking. In the meantime, Ibaka will haunt your dreams as a shot blocker. Dude doesn’t just lead the league in swats. He’s had three 10+ games in February alone. That’s just ridiculous, not to mention distracting. His presence anywhere near the ball equals an automatic case of the willies. Throw in Nick Collison’s solid work defensively, and I don’t expect easy sledding for Pau or Drew.
Mind you, that’s not the same thing as saying those guys can’t succeed. I just anticipate hard work on the horizon.
5) If the Lakers are to win in OKC, what’s the one thing that they HAVE to do better than the Thunder?
The Lakers have to be the more efficient team, especially on offense. The Lakers often to struggle to put up points as it is, so possessions can’t go wasted through turnovers or bad shot selection. The ball must be moved with precision and purpose. Players 4-12 have to make OKC’s defenders pay for inevitably leaving them open to double Kobe, Pau or Drew. And defensively, they also have to limit OKC’s second chance opportunities, which means boxing out and controlling the glass.
The Lakers aren’t a particularly good road team to begin with, so the margin for error is by definition small, especially against a high scoring team.