Russell Westbrook, Matt Barnes

Lakers-Thunder Western Conference Semifinals Preview: No longer a feel good story


Two years ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder faced the Los Angeles Lakers in the first-round of the 2010 NBA Playoffs. It was supposed to be a nice learning experience for a team on the rise, a quick lesson from the reigning champs as to how the playoffs work. Instead, the world was introduced to the intensity of the Oklahoma City crowd, and the Lakers generally looked inept in their efforts to dominate the less experienced team. The Lakers went on to win the title, because that’s kind of their thing. Struggle when they don’t have to actually try, then kill everything in front of them once they get going. The league took notice, though, and it was the big step forward for the Thunder into the spotlight.

My, how things have changed.

Now the Thunder enter Monday night as the prohibitive favorite, having handled the Lakers in all but their last meeting, an overtime home win for the Lakers that featured Metta World Peace taking out the Thunder’s third best player. The student has become the master, so to speak. But can they win out over the more experienced team, with Kobe Bryant and a huge size advantage?

Five things to note as the series kick off.

1. If You Want Blood,  You Got It: This thing is no longer a friendly little-brother thing. It’s a full-blown rivalry. The Thunder have taken it to the Lakers, and James Harden was actually talking trash to Kobe Bryant in a Thunder win earlier this season. You know, the one before Metta World Peace “accidentally” elbowed him in the side of the head giving him a concussion. Kendrick Perkins has had an issue with Andrew Bynum for years dating back to his Boston days. Serge Ibaka goes at Pau Gasol, and Kevin Durant hates being guarded by MWP. The Lakers will always think they rule the roost and the Thunder just knocked off the Mavericks who tossed them last year. They have something to prove. This is going to be a rough series with emotions running high in the madhouse that is Chesapeake Energy Arena

2. On Guard: Anyone else notice that Ty Lawson destroyed the Lakers? Because Ty Lawson destroyed the Lakers. The Lakers have lacked a good perimeter defender for point guards for years. Ramon Sessions has not helped the situation. Russell Westbrook is the same model as Lawson, fast and explosive, only maybe faster, definitely more explosive, and a better overall scorer. In the 2010 series, Kobe Bryant switched onto Westbrook and did the lion’s share on him. The problem with that is that James Harden has stepped up and become the playmaker that OKC needs as a third option. If Bryant handles Westbrook, they’re just letting Harden loose. Switch MWP onto Harden to defend him without elbowing him, and there’s that problem of Kevin Durant. Someone’s going to get loose for OKC. It’s just a matter of the Lakers picking their poison.

3. Big And Bad And Lazy All Over: Kendrick Perkins does really well against huge athletic centers. But Andrew Bynum’s size is still going to win out most times… if he exerts himself. Bynum could have ended the Nuggets series in five games had he tried. He chose not to, and the series went to seven. How much effort will he give in this series? Likewise, Serge Ibaka is going to have a hard time with Pau Gasol who can shoot over him from mid-range which is where Ibaka struggles. If Gasol is engaged, which again, flip a coin, the Lakers have so much length they can punish the Thunder inside. If not, the game becomes about transition and perimeter and that’s where the Thunder live.

4. Unlikely Heroes: The playoffs have been rife with unlikely heroes. Among these was Steve Blake, hitting five threes in Game 7 vs. Denver. Can the Lakers get great shooting from Blake and MWP over the course of a series despite all evidence to the contrary outside of Game 7? Can Daequan Cook or Thabo Sefolosha makes plays? What about Jordan Hill? No, seriously, what about Jordan Hill? This series is likely to be close and whoever gets a step up from the unlikely guys may come out on top.

5. The Finest Hour: Kobe Bryant was magnificent in Game 6 in a lost cause. In Game 7, he played in the flow of the offense and encouraged his teammates to do their job. Kevin Durant struggled early on vs. the Mavericks before breaking loose. This series is about two evenly matched teams with history and talented rosters. But it’s about Kobe vs. Durant. The Thunder don’t have a defender like MWP to stick on Bryant, but Durant is the best scorer in the series. Either Bryant is going to add to his already insane legend, or Durant’s going to make the biggest statement of his.

Kevin Love names NBA players he thinks could play in NFL

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The majority of guys in the NBA are not built for the NFL. Blake Griffin the tight end makes a huge target for a free safety to line up. Kevin Durant is a little thin. Carmelo Anthony? Come on now.

But there are a few guys who might be able to, and on his show Dan Patrick asks Kevin Love about it today (see the video above). Then DP tries to take the obvious call of LeBron James off the table.

Nate Robinson as a DB? He’s athletic enough but at his height he would be a target for tall receivers. I like Dan Patrick’s suggestion of Russell Westbrook the free safety — he is certainly athletic enough.

Love also picked himself as a QB. Um, no. I’m not sure his outlet passing skills translate.

Hawks’ Thabo Sefolosha on not guilty verdict: “Justice was served”

Thabo Sefolosha
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Friday morning, a New York jury found Atlanta Hawks guard Thabo Sefolosha not guilty of misdemeanor obstructing government administration, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. The charges stemmed from the night in the final weeks of last season when Sefolosha and then teammate Pero Antic went to a New York club after arriving in town, and while there Pacers’ player Chris Copeland was stabbed outside the club. In his clash with police, Sefolosha suffered a broken leg that required surgery and kept him out of the playoffs.

The New York prosecutor tried to make this go away with a plea deal of just day of community service and six months probation. But Sefolosha had the means and mind to fight the charges, got his day in court and won. This is what he said in a statement after the verdict, released by the Atlanta Hawks.

“This morning’s verdict ended a long and emotional period for me.  Justice was served and for that I am eternally grateful to the judge and jury for their quick and deliberate decision….

“It’s troubling to me that with so much evidence in my support that this case would even be brought to trial and that I had to defend myself so hard to get justice. It pains me to think about all of the innocent people who aren’t fortunate enough to have the resources, visibility and access to quality legal counsel that I have had.

“It was important to me as a man, a father to two young girls and as a role model, to stand up for what I believe in and have my name cleared of any wrongdoing.  Today’s verdict will not make up for the pain and trauma my family and I have suffered over the past six months or bring back the opportunity to have played in the Eastern Conference Finals and have a shot at an NBA title, but it does bring me some peace and closes a painful chapter in my life.

“Now I look forward to returning to the team and focusing solely on my rehabilitation for the upcoming season so that I can get back to playing the game I cherish so much.”

While Sefolosha says he is focusing “solely” on his rehab, the win in the criminal case would bode well for a potential civil case if he wanted to sue regarding his treatment and the broken leg.

Hawks’ coach Mike Budenholzer — who testified at the trial and was amused by parts of it — released this statement:

“Thabo is a man of great character and we are proud that he took a principled approach to proving his innocence. We are extremely happy for him and his family, and we are very pleased with today’s verdict in his favor.”