Oklahoma City Thunder: Lakers remain a good matchup
Lost in Metta World Chaos’ malicious elbow and James Harden’s concussion and even the absurd meltdown by the Thunder in the fourth quarter against the Lakers on Sunday afternoon: the Lakers remain a great — not a good, a great — matchup for Oklahoma City in a potential Western Conference semifinals.
In fact, had the Thunder won that game Sunday, the Clippers, not the Lakers, would hold the No. 3 seed in the West, and it possibly would be a Thunder-Clippers semifinal. Which is not nearly as good a matchup for OKC. Not that we should be thanking Chaos, but the truth’s the truth.
And the truth is, Sunday was just one more piece of evidence that the Thunder can handle the Lakers in a seven-game series. Let’s go to the evidence.
Each of these teams revolve around three players offensively: Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and James Harden for the Thunder; Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum for the Lakers.
In three games this season, the Thunder has won two, both by blowout, and had the Lakers blown out Sunday until the meltdown, which occurred without Harden. Now, if Harden doesn’t return for the playoffs, all bets are off. But let’s say Harden is OK despite the elbow and compare each team’s trio in Thunder-Laker games this season.
Andrew Bynum: The Thunder brought in Kendrick Perkins 14 months ago ostensibly to counter the Lakers. And Perk has done that magnificently. Bynum is shooting 55.8 percent and averaging 18.7 points a game. In three games against the Thunder, Bynum is averaging 16.3 points and shooting 44.4 percent. Bynum made 10 of 15 shots and and scored 25 points in a 102-93 loss in March. But in the other two games against OKC, Bynum made five of 15 shots. Of Bynum’s five worst games this season, two have come against Perkins.
Kobe Bryant: Kobe in three games against OKC from the field has gone 7-of-24, 7-of-25, 9-of-26. Kobe got hot in the final four minutes Sunday to rescue the Lakers, but that’s not what beat OKC. The Thunder had the game won but bumbled its way to defeat. In three games against the Thunder, mostly courtesy of Thabo Sefolosha’s dogged defense, Kobe has made 23 of 75 shots, which is 30.7 percent. He’s averaged 24.3 points, in part because he’s gotten 28 foul shots. But Thabo clearly has become an effective defender against Kobe.
Pau Gasol: Gasol is a skilled power forward who is averaging 17.4 points and shooting 50.1 percent from the field. In three games against the Thunder, mostly against Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison, Gasol is averaging 18.3 points and shooting 46.5 from the field. Respectable numbers, and much, much closer to Gasol’s norm than Kobe or Bynum have gotten to their norm.
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