Call me crazy, but I think the Los Angeles Lakers can beat the Oklahoma City Thunder. Call me an eternal optimist when it comes to the Lakers, or go ahead and even call me stupid. Just don’t call me wrong until it’s all said and done.
The Lakers were absolutely demolished on Monday night. They looked like they were even trying somewhat, but the Thunder just looked better in every single aspect of the game.
However, I still think the Lakers can win. It won’t be easy. Hell, it may physically be the toughest series Metta World Peace, Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, and even Kobe Bryant will be in. But, don’t tell me the Lakers are completely out of it.
Here’s how I think the Lakers can win:
Transition Defense – First of all, the Thunder shot lights out for a good portion of the game. Maybe they can continue their extremely hot shooting, but just as science would tell you that what gets hot must go cold, the laws of gravity would tell you that what goes up must come down.
Perhaps the Lakers can’t stop the Thunder’s hot shooting. What they can help is their own defense. On numerous occasions we saw the Thunder push the ball up the court, only to get an easy layup or a wide open jump-shot. With two seven footers in the front court, it is extremely hard to keep up with a bunch of young, athletic, quick guards who love to run.
It’s not that they weren’t trying to get back on defense, but they just weren’t trying hard enough. They may not be able to run down those guards, but Bynum, Gasol, and the rest of the guys are going to have to sprint their rear ends back as fast as they can on every play.
It was evident how each Thunder player valued each possession. The Lakers are used to taking possessions off, and making up for it in other areas. In this series, everyone on the Lakers is going to have to get used to the fact that they are going to run more than they ever have before. They may not stop every transition basket, but they can at least not give up on every play. If certain players are getting tired or lazy, Mike Brown will have to do what he did in the last regular season game against the Thunder, and go with a lineup that will hustle.
Half-Court Defense – Because the Thunder pushed the ball up the court so fast last night, it didn’t allow the Lakers’ defense to get set. Most importantly, it didn’t allow Gasol and Bynum to get set. Bynum can be a defensive beast when he wants to be, but Monday night he rarely got the chance to block shots. When he was settled, Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook were penetrating into the lane and pulling up for mid-range jump-shots.
The perimeter defense will have to step up, and Bynum will have to come out farther in order to make sure Durant doesn’t get such easy looks. Additionally, when Bynum helps, someone must cover his post. Hopefully that’s part of what he and Pau Gasol were discussing after the loss the other night.
Russell Westbrook looks poised to abuse Steve Blake in the post on every half-court possession, but Kobe Bryant has had success on him in the past. However, it appears that Ramon Sessions will get a longer assignment on him in Game 2. Sessions is not known for his defense, but if he can at least stay on him with his speed, it will greatly help. If not, the onus will be back on Kobe to try and slow Westbrook.
First, the Lakers must somehow slow the tempo in order to allow the defense to set.
Offensive Rebounds – Because it is so hard to slow the Thunder and control the tempo, the Lakers will have to do everything they can to limit the run-outs. Pounding the ball inside is one solution. Additionally, the Lakers will have to make it a point to crash the offensive glass. The Lakers have a size advantage with Gasol and Bynum, and with Matt Barnes’ pension for offensive rebounds and Metta World Peace’s strength, the Lakers will have to look to dominate the glass and slow down the game.
Tempo – The Lakers will have to try and slow the game down early, and not get caught up in the Thunder’s fast-paced style. It will be tough, because the Thunder will inevitably push the ball no matter how slow the Lakers play on offense. The Lakers will just have to take their time on offense, and run more sets through Pau Gasol.
Gasol has been one of the most effective facilitators this post-season, and can attack in a number of ways. His ability allows him to make things easier for literally everyone on the floor, and the Lakers will have to utilize him. Most importantly, he will have to come out with an aggressive mindset and look to score, pass, and rebound with authority.
Physicality/Hustle/Heart – The Lakers are a better team when they play physical. The Thunder are a jump-shooting team, but also attack the rim with their guards from time to time. However, the Lakers–especially when provoked–are an extremely physical team. The Thunder are playoff tested, but still aren’t as experienced as the Lakers core players (Bryant, Gasol, Bynum, and World Peace). We’re not talking about Metta World Peace throwing any more ‘bows, but the Lakers need to impose their will on the Thunder. Basically, they have to use their veteran experience and play some old-school type of basketball.
Last, but certainly not least, would be the Lakers’ hustle. They went out and tried in Game 1, but the Thunder came out and hustled. That style of play is in the Thunder’s DNA. The Lakers are a much older team, but we’ve seen them hustle before. When the Lakers are active offensively and especially defensively, they are a tough team to beat. If they can set a tone early, and create momentum somehow, they will have a chance to win Game 2 and win more games down the line.
The Thunder obviously have heart, and they collectively wear it on their sleeves. The Lakers have heart too, but it doesn’t appear to be on the same level as the Thunder. But, deep down, they do have a fire inside and want to win badly. We’ve seen it before from Pau Gasol, we sometimes see it from Andrew Bynum, we always see it from Kobe Bryant, and we see it come in different forms from Metta World Peace. The bottom line is that we need to see it from everyone that steps on the court in Game 2, and even from the guys who won’t play significant minutes. Every single player has to come out fired up.
Andrew Bynum said the Lakers will win the NBA Championship if they commit to defense, and he’s right. They just have to have the heart to do it.
Kobe Bryant – Kobe usually steps up his game come playoff time. Now is the time for him to truly step it up. He typically waits for the playoffs to bring out his “secret” weapon–which is attacking the basket. He can’t do it on a daily basis during the regular season because he’s older now, but when Bryant gets to the rim, good things happen. He is healthier than he has been over the last couple seasons, and is still one of the best finishers in the game when he attacks the rim. When he attacks and misses, he usually has Bynum, Gasol, or even one of his wing-men there to clean it up.
Kobe will probably be as tired as he’s ever been if he has to attack the basket, facilitate the offense, hustle on defense, and guard Russell Westbrook in this series. However, he knows that the window is closing when it comes to his championship opportunities, and will undoubtedly do whatever it takes to win.
We know he’ll be up for the challenge, it will just depend on how far his teammates are willing to to push themselves in order to win as well.
It won’t be easy, but if the Lakers can do all of these things, they have an extremely great chance to beat the Thunder.
At least I think so.