POWER FORWARD: SERGE IBAKA VS. PAU GASOL
ANALYSIS: Once the Olympics are over, we would suggest Ibaka get busy working on pick-and-roll coverage. Gasol and Nash will run teams ragged in the high pick-and-roll, and it is likely to expose one of the Thunder's biggest weaknesses. Westbrook is not a great pick-and-roll defender, and neither is Ibaka. The Lakers could live off of it against OKC and transform Gasol into a bigger scoring threat than the four-time All-Star has ever been. To understand Nash's impact on mobile big men, consider the case of Phoenix center Marcin Gortat. In Orlando, Gortat never averaged more than four points. When teaming up with Nash, Gortat averaged 13 points in the first year and 15.4 points last year. Beyond the basic stats, Gortat's connection rate at the rim jumped from 69.2 percent to 74.3 percent. Of the makes, Gortat had 80.4 percent assisted at the rim in year one with Nash and 84.3 assisted at the rim last year. Gortat never surpassed a 77.6 percent assisted rate in Orlando. Translate that impact to a player like Gasol, and that becomes a scary proposition. And we haven't even gotten into how Gasol's dirty work on the boards (remember the 2010 playoffs?) will prevent Ibaka from providing weakside help on Howard. Add it all up, and it's enough to think Gasol just might be the most dangerous Laker against the Thunder. And that spells trouble for Ibaka.
CENTER: KENDRICK PERKINS VS. DWIGHT HOWARD
ANALYSIS: These two towers of power have locked horns 24 times in the regular season. Howard has averaged 16.3 points, 12.6 rebounds and 2.8 blocked shots. Perkins has averaged 5.6 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.4 blocked shots. They've hooked up 13 times in the playoffs. Howard has averaged 18.9 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.8 blocks. Perkins has averaged 7.7 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. Those numbers are more of a credit to Howard's greatness than a sign of how effective Perkins has been against him. The figures that are more indicative of Perkins' impact are seen in the win columns. Howard is 13-11 against Perkins' teams in the regular season. Perkins' teams have gone 7-6 against Howard in the playoffs. That's why Perkins is considered the league's best low post defender, and it's the reason why the new-look Lakers don't scare the Thunder.