NBA insider: Could Thunder-Lakers be a playoff preview?

Sunday's Thunder-Lakers game could be a second-round preview in this year's playoffs. The Thunder and Spurs are battling for the No. 1-2 seeds, while the Lakers and Clippers are battling for the 3-4 seeds.
BY JOHN ROHDE Published: April 21, 2012
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Thunder general manager Sam Presti traded for Boston Celtics center Kendrick Perkins last season so Oklahoma City could survive the Los Angeles Lakers in a playoff series.

The uber-intense Perkins has since done nothing to hide his disdain for all opponents, particularly the Lakers and forward Pau Gasol.

Asked what he doesn't like about Gasol, Perkins replied: "Everything."

Beating the Lakers wasn't the sole purpose for obtaining an enforcer such as Perkins, but if OKC could get through the Lakers in the postseason, logically the Thunder would have a better chance of getting through other road blocks such as the San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Orlando Magic, et al.

Sunday's 2:30 p.m. contest between the Thunder and Lakers at Staples Center could be a second-round preview in this year's playoffs. The Thunder and Spurs are battling for the No. 1-2 seeds, while the Lakers and the fellow tenant Clippers are battling for the 3-4 seeds.

Presti obtained Perkins to counter the Lakers' 7-foot All-Star towers in Gasol and center Andrew Bynum, and also reigning Sixth Man of the Year Lamar Odom off the bench.

When the Thunder and Lakers last met in the playoffs, Nenad Krstic was starting at center for the Thunder. OKC lost the best-of-seven series 4-2, capped by a Gasol tip-in off a Kobe Bryant miss with 0.5 seconds left in a 95-94 finale at the Ford Center in Game 6 on April 30, 2010.

The Lakers have since rid themselves of Odom, Derek Fisher, Shannon Brown, Jordan Farmar and Luke Walton, replacing them with Jordan Hill, Ramon Sessions, Devin Ebanks, Andrew Goudelock and Josh McRoberts. For another Laker, only the name has changed — from Ron Artest to Metta World Peace.

The Thunder has since parted ways with Krstic, forward Jeff Green, Etan Thomas and Kyle Weaver and replaced them with Perkins, Daequan Cook, Nazr Mohammed and Fisher.

Fisher swapped uniforms after the Lakers traded him to Houston in March. Fisher agreed to a buyout with the Rockets, freeing him to sign a free-agent deal to finish out this season with OKC.

Fisher was a pain in the neck against the Thunder in the 2010 playoff series, consistently making clutch plays while averaging 10.2 points, 3.3 assists, 2.7 rebounds and shooting 46.7 percent (14 for 30) from 3-point range.

Now that Fisher has joined OKC, perhaps he will return the favor to his old team.

KEY RETURNEES

Each team's roster has changed since the Lakers and Thunder last met in the postseason, but the core of the Lakers remains the same with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace and Andrew Bynum.

The Thunder has retained Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Serge Ibaka, James Harden, Nick Collison and Eric Maynor (out with a knee injury).

The Lakers' returning starters have gotten and little bit older and Bynum has improved immensely.

The Thunder's three returning starters have improved in their own way, but a significant difference can be found in the improvement of Ibaka and Harden.

Two seasons ago, Ibaka was a 20-year-old rookie who came off the bench and averaged 18.1 minutes, 6.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocked shots.

Harden was a 20-year-old rookie who averaged 22.9 minutes, 9.9 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.8 assists while shooting 40.3 percent from the field.

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