Even with the Lakers' off-season additions, they won't have… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
Every NBA team is subject to roster changes leading into the season and up through the trade deadline. But in the spirit of seeing how things have evolved for the Lakers since the 2012 NBA playoffs ended, this is the first part of a series breaking down their potentially troublesome Western Conference opponents
Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
Lakers' record versus Thunder last year: 1-2 in regular season; lost 4-1 in Western Conference semifinals
How Thunder fared last season: Compiled a 47-19 regular-season record (second in Western Conference), lost 4-1 to the Miami Heat in NBA Finals
Why the Thunder is a threat to the Lakers: The same reason the Lakers lost to the Thunder in last year's playoffs. Even with the Lakers acquiring Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison, they don't have enough pieces to keep up with Oklahoma City. The Lakers still can't do anything about stopping Russell Westbrook. They don't nearly match the bench support that James Harden brings to the Thunder. The Thunder know how to limit the Lakers' size advantage, with Kendrick Perkins fronting Andrew Bynum and Serge Ibaka playing physical on Pau Gasol. Thabo Sefolosha and Harden have been successful at making Kobe Bryant work hard for his shots.
The Thunder has kept advancing in the playoffs for the last two seasons because it has a strong collective nucleus. As time has gone on, the Thunder has continuously moved forward in its progression. And as that goes on, the Lakers will have a much more difficult time hoping their experience and top-heavy starting lineup will be enough.
Why the Lakers are a threat to the Thunder: Even last year, the Lakers had what it took to beat Oklahoma City in the playoffs. If not for late-game gaffes, the Lakers would've entered Game 5 with a 3-1 series lead. Those mistakes had nothing to do with talent; the problem was Laker execution. With a full training camp and a more rested lineup, it's likely such mistakes wouldn't happen.
Besides, the Lakers have an improved personnel to ensure games don't come down to such plays. Nash will make the offensive more efficient, giving Bryant easier looks and the Lakers' bigs more touches. World Peace has lost 15 pounds this summer and could be better equipped in at least limiting Kevin Durant's scoring. Even if the Lakers' bench is far from complete, Jamison would give the Lakers enough scoring punch to offset Harden's contributions. All of these variables wouldn't just make it a competitive series. It would be enough for the Lakers to win.
Verdict: It will be a competitive seven-game series. But the Lakers still don't have enough speed and bench depth to match up with the Thunder. That doesn't mean it's impossible for them to beat the Thunder in the playoffs. But as the teams are currently configured, it's more likely Oklahoma City would know how to match whatever changes the Lakers bring.
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