Baldwin: The Thunder was competitive in probably 76 or 77 of its 82 games. The fact it has played almost every team close and owns one of the league's best road records is a sign this team matured quicker than anyone thought. Any team that can post road wins at Boston, Dallas, Phoenix, Portland, San Antonio, Utah, Atlanta and Miami, all playoff teams, can be competitive.
Sherman: Playing the Lakers means the Thunder won't be relegated to NBA-TV broadcasts, how's that?
Why are opposing point guards torching the Thunder?
Tramel: Westbrook's defense hasn't developed as quickly as his offense. The tonic is to turn the tables. Westbrook should penetrate. When he's going to the basket, he's a very effective player.
Carlson: Deron Williams. Chauncey Billups. Andre Miller. Monta Ellis. All have had big nights. But Williams and Billups are understandable. They're two of the better point guards in the league. And considering the Thunder followed up games against those two by holding Steve Nash to 11 points, it didn't seem like opposing point guards were a problem at that point. The last two — Ellis and Miller — are more troubling. They illustrate again that struggling defense.
Baldwin: Westbrook has had difficulty keeping opposing point guards in front of him. When teams get into the lane it sets up easy buckets in the paint and wide-open 3-pointers on kickout passes.
Sherman: Can't pin this on Westbrook alone. Since the NBA prohibited handchecking out on the floor, even the best perimeter defenders get beat. Help defense from guys off the ball hasn't been anywhere as energetic and consistent as it was in March.
If Marcus Camby can get 30 points and 13 rebounds on OKC, what will Gasol do?
Tramel: The Thunder has to hope that Gasol is disinterested. I don't know why he would be, but that has to be the hope. Gasol is the second-best center in the NBA and doesn't even play center for the Lakers.
Carlson: I suspect he'll have some big numbers against the Thunder, but then, I thought that before Monday's game against Camby and Portland. Pau Gasol is one of the top centers in the league, and in the playoffs, I expect him to be a force. The Thunder will have to use a variety of guys on him, switching from Nenad Krstic to Serge Ibaka to Nick Collison. Give him different looks. Keep a fresh guy on him. It won't stop him, but it might slow him down a bit.
Baldwin: This has been the Thunder's Achilles heel the past two seasons. Krstic, at times, does a decent job, and didn't play. But Krstic isn't exactly a defensive stopper in the paint. It's the primary reason it would be shocking to see the Thunder defeat the Lakers in a series.
Sherman: Remember the dying days of the Chicago Bulls dynasty? Phil Jackson always had three postmen and 18 fouls to inflict on anyone daring to drive on the Bulls, but Jerry Krause refused to resign Joe Klein, leaving the Bulls one postman and six fouls short. And it might have cost them that last title if Michael Jordan hadn't, ahem, pushed off Bryon Russell. If Krstic isn't available or is hampered at all, you'll see some 30-and-15 nights from Gasol.
What's the more worrisome trend, the Thunder's late-game defense or inability to get good shots late in games?
Tramel: The Thunder's late-game problem is more prevalent on offense. The Thunder has turned into putty in the last minute. Two inbounds disasters vs. Golden State. Durant throwing the ball to the ref vs. Portland. Pitiful. That's not a lack of execution. That's a total choke.
Carlson: Defense, defense, defense. If you're always taking the ball out of the basket, you can't get any fastbreak points, any transition opportunities. Those are good shots, and they are shots that the Thunder isn't getting because its defense has become non-existent late in games.
Baldwin: Unless the Thunder finds a way to get back to its defensive improvement the first three months it will be difficult to win consistently, either in the playoffs or next season.
Sherman: The late-game offense. Defense is an act of will and effort that the Thunder has and will be willing to commit to. It might take a while before they learn how to get good shots against lockdown defense. Like Sam Presti says, it's a process.