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Lakers-Thunder series: Five things to watch in Game 2

May 16, 2012|By Mark Medina
  • Lakers point guard Ramon Sessions is fouled by Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka on a layup during Game 1 on Monday night in Oklahoma City.
Lakers point guard Ramon Sessions is fouled by Thunder power forward Serge… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

Some things to watch when the Thunder hosts the Lakers in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals. Oklahoma City leads the series, 1-0.

1. How will the Lakers' defend the pick-and-roll? The Lakers provided a great clinic in their 119-90 Game 1 loss on exactly what not to do in this category. Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum didn't show out on screens, allowing the Thunder to shoot a blistering 53% from the field mostly because of open jumpers. Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Ramon Sessions and Steve Blake didn't stick tightly to Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and James Harden, respectively, allowing each of them to create through dribble penetration. The moments that the Lakers effectively helped, they fouled so often that the Thunder was able to make 24 of 29 free throws.

L.A.'s weaknesses in this department aren't new. That's why, according to Synergy Sports Technology, Oklahoma City devoted 33.4% of its plays in Game 1 to it. So the Lakers have no other choice than to change up the way they defended the P&R. Even if the Thunder's shooting clip drops off, contesting jumpers will prevent OKC from building any rhythm. Even if the Lakers don't have the speed to stop the Thunder one-on-one, constant help defense will help mitigate that. Even if the Lakers want to play physical with them, granting free trips to the free-throw line accomplishes little. It'll be a hard task for the Lakers to limit the Thunder, but adopting better defensive principles would at least minimize the damage.

2. How will Kendrick Perkins' possible physical limitations affect the game?  He spent the weeklong period between playoff series against Dallas and the Lakers healing his right-hip strain. But Perkins' injury still bothers him. After he leaped for a dunk early in the third quarter, Perkins hobbled his way out of the arena. Although he later returned to the bench, the lopsided score made it unnecessary for him to re-enter he game. Thunder Coach Scott Brooks has told reporters that Perkins' availability Tuesday night remains a game-time decision. This being the playoffs, however, I'd highly doubt Perkins would sit out.

Regardless, Bynum has to take advantage of this vulnerability, because it could be one of the one true advantages the Lakers can enjoy in this series. Offensively, the Lakers' center remained the team's lone bright spot on offense in Game 1 by posting 20 points on an efficient seven-of-12 shooting. A limited or an absent Perkins would make things much easier for Bynum to operate in the post because the other personnel (Nick Collison, Nazr Mohammed) don't have the same physical presence as Perkins to do much of anything. Combine that with the Thunder's lack of double teams down low, and Bynum should have a field day. For better or worse, this variable also hinges on whether Bynum actually tries.

3. Ramon Sessions has to show more aggressiveness. Lament all you want about Sessions' failure to help stop Westbrook, but here's the reality: The Lakers will forever struggle with guarding fast point guards when their pick-and-roll defense remains atrocious. Besides, Kobe Bryant mostly guarded Westbrook. Instead, Sessions' most concerning element regards his two-point performance on one-of-seven shooting in Game 1. As I mentioned, Sessions has struggled in playing aggressively when the Lakers have asked him to slow down the tempo. But the two concepts aren't mutually exclusive.

It would be a bad idea for the Lakers to play at a fast pace against Oklahoma City. That's partly why the Lakers committed 15 turnovers in Game 1. Doing so would only exacerbate that issue and expose the Lakers on transition defense. But Sessions should still attack the basket when he can in half-court sets instead of settling for jumpers.

4. How will the Lakers get better looks for Kobe Bryant? It's unlikely the Thunder will change its double-team strategy on Bryant. He's a marked man for a reason. But Bryant's 20 points on seven-of-18 shooting featured too many difficult shots. Bryant went one-of-seven on shots along the wing and only two of his field goals came at the basket. Credit the Thunder for pushing Bryant on the wing instead of allowing him to roam the lane, post and elbow areas. But the Lakers need to set up Bryant when he's moving off the ball. Setting him up on an island doesn't accomplish anything.

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