Serge Ibaka and the Oklahoma City Thunder will offer plenty of resistance… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
What should the Lakers feel optimistic about against Oklahoma City?
Mike Bresnahan: The Lakers actually showed some fire in their double-overtime victory over OKC last month. Can't remember a Lakers crowd ever getting that into a regular-season game.
The Lakers' defense really showed me something in Game 7 against Denver. Not sure where it was the whole series, but the Lakers will have to employ it the entire time against OKC.
Ben Bolch: The Lakers' 7-footers give them an advantage, provided they show up. Of course, that didn't always happen in the first round. The Lakers also have a potential Kevin Durant stopper in Metta World Peace, who will be eligible to play in the entire series. And the Thunder has almost no bench to speak of (Nick Collison? Daequan Cook?) beyond James Harden.
Mark Medina: The Lakers know they can't mess around against Oklahoma City. There's simply too little margin for error. Because of that, the Lakers won't take nights off and will actually try. The Lakers showed just how dangerous they can be in Games 1 and 7 against Denver when they have that mind set and play as a team.
What should the Lakers feel pessimistic about against the Thunder?
Bresnahan: Everybody important on the Thunder is young. And rested. Not good for the Lakers.
Bolch: Like Denver, the Thunder is another run-and-gun opponent, only better. And the Nuggets just extended the Lakers to a seventh game in the first round.
Oklahoma City has the stars in Durant and Russell Westbrook to come through in big fourth-quarter moments, and its interior duo of Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins is much more physically imposing than what the Nuggets threw at the Lakers, especially on the defensive end of the court. The Thunder also has the emotional edge after World Peace's elbow nearly knocked Harden into next season.
Medina: There are way too many reasons. The Thunder is more rested. OKC is younger, faster and more athletic. No matter how much the Lakers will try to control the pace and use their size, Oklahoma City will inevitably open up the floodgates.
Metta World Peace faces the Thunder after serving a seven-game suspension for elbowing James Harden. Where does that story line come into play with this series?
Bresnahan: This is a huge story line. Thunder fans are salivating at the chance to shower World Peace with insults. World Peace's role will be incredibly large this series because he's the one guarding Kevin Durant. If World Peace is thrown off his game, the Lakers are in trouble.
Bolch: Mostly in Game 1. World Peace will certainly be booed every time he touches the ball in Oklahoma City, but fans will likely be most vocal throughout the series opener. Not that World Peace seems to care what anyone else says or thinks, particularly himself.
Medina: With World Peace refusing to apologize to Harden or even shake hands with him, the Lakers' zany forward is setting himself up for further animosity from the Thunder. But that's the way he likes it considering he believes it helps him keep that competitive edge. World Peace must channel that energy into stopping Kevin Durant. Oh, and it might be a good thing to think before swinging another elbow.
What's the matchup to watch in the Lakers-Thunder series?
Bresnahan: It's a three-way tie for first: Durant vs. World Peace, Kobe Bryant vs. Russell Westbrook and James Harden vs. the entire Lakers bench (who scores more?).
Bolch: World Peace on Durant. The Thunder star averaged 26.5 points per game in the first round, and his team will only go as far as he and Russell Westbrook can take it. If World Peace can consistently make things tough on Durant, the Lakers will have a chance in the series.
Medina: Andrew Bynum vs. Kendrick Perkins. If the Thunder center is limited because of a hip injury, Bynum has a prime opportunity to take advantage of OKC's depleted size. If Perkins is fully healthy, Bynum will be physically tested. Either way, Bynum has shown that his effort, or lack thereof, largely dictates the Lakers' success.
Will Derek Fisher deliver the same playoff theatrics with the Thunder the way he once did with the Lakers?
Bresnahan: It wouldn't surprise me if Fisher delivered a clutch shot in one of the games, but I'm thinking more along the lines of Durant and Westbrook providing theatrics.
Bolch: Doubtful. Fisher is waaaaaay past those days. He may make a few fourth-quarter baskets, but the likelihood of him hitting another 0.4 shot is 0.004.
Medina: Fisher may throw a dagger or two. But his "playoff theatrics" will remain more behind the scenes, giving this young Thunder team words of wisdom on how to navigate the road to a championship.
What's your prediction on the series outcome?Bresnahan: Oklahoma City is rested and ready. Maybe there will be some rust, but it's nothing the Thunder can't shake off with its clear speed advantage. OKC in six.
Bolch: The Lakers steal a game in Oklahoma City before the Thunder takes control of the series and goes on to win in six games.
Medina: Size usually beats speed. But not in this case. The Lakers won't have enough time to charge their aging batteries, particularly with a back-to-back in Games 3 and 4 at Staples Center. Thunder in six games.
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