First-Round Fever: Game 1

The season that counts begins today.

The Champion Los Angeles Lakers are ready to defend their title against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Lakers, despite a season riddled with injuries and boredom as the playoffs began to loom, have captured the number one seed in the West for the third straight year.

In fact, since the acquistion of Pau Gasol in 2008, L.A. has been at the top of the Western Conference.

The Lakers and Thunder met four times in the season. L.A. won the first three, but OKC took the final game, snapping a 7-game losing streak to the Lakers. L.A. won the series 3-1.

Now they meet again with the Lakers as the top seed and the Thunder taking the number 8 seed.

2010 TEAM STATS:

Thunder

PPG 101.5

RPG 43.5

APG 20.0

Lakers

PPG 101.7

RPG 44.3

APG 21.1

The teams were quite identical in their stats, so it’s not much to separate the two in that regard.

However, the Lakers’ biggest strength lies in their frontcourt.

With Bynum & Gasol both at 7’0, it should create problems for the Thunder big men to get any good looks in the paint. Bynum was instrumental in more ways than fans may credit him. In the three games won by the Lakers, he averaged 19 points and 11 rebounds. But most of all, his presence alone made it hard for the Thunder to score.

And that will be key to stop an up-and-coming superstar slasher like Kevin Durant. Durant also being the league’s scoring champ with 30.1 points a game during the regular season.

With Odom coming back to the bench, the Lakers’ reserve now have their core back in form and can be the difference maker in the series as the Thunder don’t pose much of a threat to L.A. beyond rookie James Harden.

Kobe will definitely be ready as he sat out four of the final five games of the regular season preparing and resting his swollen right knee; as well as the rest of his body.

Pau can pose problems for the 3rd year forward Jeff Green. But Green is able to spread the floor with his 3-point shooting. So expect Odom to take a few turns guarding him at the perimeter.

This will also be the true test to see if the Ron Artest acquisition was worth the move of  Trevor Ariza, who went to the Houston Rockets during the off-season. Ron has done a solid job for what its worth stopping Kevin Durant at the right time. The Lakers are looking for him to do the same today.

Rusell Westbrook is the key to the Thunder making this a tough series. If he’s able to score as well as facilitate, it will be a very tough round for the Lakers, as their Achilles heel is still guarding the point position.

PROJECTED STARTERS:

LAKERS:

(C) A. Bynum

(PF) P. Gasol

(SF) R. Artest

(SG) K. Bryant

(PG) D. Fisher

X-Factor: The Laker’s frontcourt, bench play, and containment of Rusell Westbrook.

THUNDER:

(C) N. Kristic

(PF) J. Green

(SF) K. Durant

(SG) S. Sefolosha

(PG) R. Westbrook

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