Here's a breakdown of a potential Lakers vs. Thunder series.
Nearing the end of a rollercoaster season that included the firing of a head coach, the death of their beloved owner, numerous injuries and less than expected play from Dwight Howard a recent run of solid play finds the Lakers in the playoff hunt. Unfortunately their difficult start to the season has put them in a position that will most likely see them face the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs or Memphis Grizzlies in the first round.
The Season Series: The season series is complete with the Oklahoma City Thunder taking three of four from the Lakers, in pretty convincing fashion in their three victories. These wins aside, there is on positive the Lakers can take from the season series. They only had Gasol, Howard, Bryant and Nash in one of the four games and came out on top in the game. On the negative side they really don't have an answer for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (who does?). Durant averaged 35 per game during the season series.
In total it's really hard to glean much from the regular season match-ups since the Lakers never really had a full squad, like they will as they head into the post season. The first three games took place during the Lakers lowest point of the season where they were beset by injuries and were still trying to find a rhythm in the Mike D'Antoni system.
Key Matchup for the Lakers: The Lakers have to find a way to slow down Kevin Durant, even if it's just a little bit. Granted it's no easy task to slow down the best pure scorer in the league, but they need to find away to at least hold him to his season series averages. Like the Heat in last year's playoffs one tactic is to find a way to make Durant work on the defensive end. Of course this is easier said than done because the Heat made Durant match-up with Lebron James at time. Durant lined up with Ron Artest doesn't provide the same impact. If Durant is on the Thunder are extremely difficult to beat. If the Lakers can make him work and deny him the basketball and reduce his open looks they stand a much better chance of slowing down Durant and making the other Thunder players beat you.
Key Matchup for the Thunder: Russell Westbrook. For all the greatness of Kevin Durant the player who is the catalyst for the Thunder is Russell Westbrook. Durant is so amazing in his consistency that you can always count on him for a solid performance. It's Westbrook who can elevated the club to tremendous heights or derail them with subpar performances. This pattern was repeated during the season series where Westbrook was generally outstanding, except for the lone Lakers victory where he shot a brutal 6 for 22. If Westbrook is one and shooting well it's an extremely difficult matchup for the Lakers because they really don't have a player to guard him.
Home Court Advantage: The Thunder have one of the best home court advantages in the league with Chesapeake Energy Arena which often seems like a college atmosphere. Still with how the NBA playoffs work if the Lakers can steal one of the first two games in Oklahoma City they can return home to Staples Center with momentum and home court advantage.
By: Chris Michaels