As Kobe Bryant strolled out of the Ford Center following the Thunder’s 110-89 win in Game 4 on Saturday night, the Los Angeles Lakers’ star lit up, brazenly lifting a cigar to his lips and puffing merrily just before exiting the building.
The trail of smoke reeked of every ounce of arrogance the Lakers have carried into this first-round series. The scene, though, belied the bountiful problems Bryant had just finished confessing in his postgame press conference. By his own admission, Bryant has been affected by a knee injury and is now unsure of the mindset of his once mighty team. And those are just the start of L.A.’s issues. The lone edge the Lakers still own over the Thunder is home-court advantage as this series shifts back to Staples Center deadlocked at 2-2. But make no mistake, the Thunder is now in control of this showdown going into Tuesday night’s Game 5. Here are 10 reasons why. →Youth and athleticism: The Thunder’s ability to get out and run and finish in transition has stumped the Lakers. OKC owns a whopping 72-17 edge in fast-break points, and L.A. has tried, unsuccessfully, to slow down the Thunder’s transition game since Game 1. Don’t look for it to happen now. →Defense: Oklahoma City has held L.A. to just 41.2 percent shooting from the field and 91.7 points per game. Bryant has had one good game out of four and is shooting 38.4 percent, barely above his playoff career-low 38.2 percent shooting as a rookie. →Rebounding: With no threat of the Lakers leaking out in transition, the Thunder has figured out that the way to counter L.A.’s big men on the boards is by rebounding with the guards. The Thunder is now controlling the pace of play by out-rebounding the Lakers 103-82 in the last two games. →Russell Westbrook: He’s been the best and most consistent player in this series.
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Thunder at Lakers→When: 9:30 p.m., Tuesday →Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles →TV: TNT (Cox 31) →Radio: WWLS-AM 640, 98.1 FM