NBA Playoffs, Lakers Thunder game 6: Russell Westbrook must attack Kobe Bryant

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Thumbnail image for Westbrook_Dunk.jpgSitting by their lockers after game five, Thunder players admitted it caught them off guard — Kobe Bryant locking down on Russell Westbrook. It threw the young Thunder out of sync, it made Westbrook hesitant.

It cost them the game, and now they trail the Lakers 3-2. If they are to pull off one of the greatest upsets in NBA playoff history, Westbrook cannot be hesitant in the final two games, starting Friday night back in the Ford Center.

After reviewing all of Westbrook’s possessions, it became clear that Kobe was a part of the problem, but that the Lakers better overall play in slowing the game down played a big role as well. Westbrook is nearly unstoppable in transition, but in the half court he is more manageable. The Lakers took away a lot of those transition opportunities, and Westbrook did not convert the ones he did get at his normal rate. The Lakers length, and being back in transition, added to his off night.

For example, with 6:28 left in the third quarter Westbrook made a steal and was off in transition, but Kobe was with him. Kobe’s length and strength running down the floor took away easy layup that Westbrook feeds on, so Westbrook tried to go under the basket then pass out to a trailer, but that pass was picked off for his own turnover. Westbrook just has to attack in that spot and try to draw the foul.

In the half court, it is sort of the same. Early on Westbrook passed, then his first shot came off a pick and roll, when Kobe went under the pick and he pulled up and took a jumper. Kobe is long enough to play off him some and still challenge those jumpers, and Westbrook was not hitting them.

And he settled for them too much — four of his last five shots of the game were threes. The Lakers will take that. While he hit two of four late in the game, Westbrook on the season is a 22 percent shooter from three. That is what the Lakers want him to do.

But even with Kobe on him, Westbrook can attack.

There were a couple of instances where, even with Kobe face up on him where Westbrook went strong to his left and got a decent shot — what bothered him was less Kobe and more the help from Bynum and Gasol (something the Lakers did much better in game five). Westbrook needs to go at him, needs to attack and create (if Bynum helps, make the pass to the man he vacated).

Getting a couple fouls on Kobe would also be huge.

Also, Kobe loves to play free safety and leave his man, even when he knows he shouldn’t. Westbrook got a couple of good looks because Durant had the ball at the elbow, Kobe drifted to him and Westbrook slashed behind him to the rim. Those chances will be there again.

Kobe on Westbrook makes things harder on the young point guard, but not impossible. What he can’t do is change his game, he can’t settle for jumpers. There needs to be points in transition. He needs to attack.

If he does, he’ll get a chance to do it again on Sunday in game seven.

Somebody looks comfortable: Paul George drops 20 in first quarter

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Paul George‘s first experience starting as a power forward was going up against Anthony Davis — not just one of the best power forwards in the game, one of the handful of best players in the game period. That didn’t go well for George, and he wasn’t happy about it.

His second experience was in another preseason game Tuesday, going up against the Pistons and their four, Ersan İlyasova. He’s not quite as intimidating.

George scored 20 points on 7-of-8 shooting, 4-of-5 on threes — and that was just the first quarter (you can see it all in the video above).

As we have said before, George at the four is not a bad call by the Pacers, but some of that depends on the matchup. On the nights the Pacers face Davis or Blake Griffin or LaMarcus Aldridge or Zach Randolph (or a handful of others) the Pacers’ coaching staff is going to have to adjust. But there are a lot of nights where George at the four is going to force the other team to adjust, and that will play into the Pacers’ hands.

Is DeMarcus Cousins MVP worthy? “It’s mine to grab”

DeMarcus Cousins

Last season, DeMarcus Cousins received zero MVP votes (the same as every year of his career). Even though he averaged 24.1 points, and 12.7 rebounds a game, which was enough to get him his first All-Star berth, MVP is another thing entirely. Only players on winning teams tend to draw the attention of MVP voters.

This season, can Cousins — arguably the best center in the game — get in the conversation?

He thinks it’s more than just that, he told Kevin Ding at Bleacher Report.

The topic is the 2015-16 NBA MVP award and whether it could be reachable for DeMarcus Cousins.

“Reachable, man?” Cousins told Bleacher Report, his voice rising high. “It’s mine to grab.”

As noted above, the only way Cousins gets into the conversation — fair or not — is if the Kings are in the playoffs (at the very least). He understands that.

“It’s going to take a full team effort,” Cousins said. “I’ll try to play at a high level and bring my team along with me.”

Vlade Divac built a Kings’ team designed to start winning now — as you would expect from a team a year away from moving into a new arena they need to fill. Owner Vivek Ranadive is not about selling hope anymore, he wants to sell wins.

I think Cousins can help provide that.

I’m less sold on the cast around him being able to help.