Los Angeles Lakers @ Oklahoma City Thunder -7.5 (Total: 191.5)
The Lakers needed every big three from Ron Artest, ne, “Metta World Peace” Saturday night to survive the Nuggets, but in NCAA Tourney fashion, survive they did. Survie and advance baby, survive and advance. Now, with a scant one day’s rest they travel to OKC to kick off the second round against the Thunder who have been sitting idly by for over a week.
So, will fatigue hamper the Lakers or will rust befall the Thunder? There are a ton of interesting storylines tonight, not the least of all the whole “last time the Lakers were here Artest plowed a savage elbow into the face of James Harden” thing. One can safely assume that one of the bet home crowds in all the NBA will be even MORE electric than usual for tonight’s kickoff of the Western Semi-Finals.
So, how will this series play out?
For the Lakers, their advantage is their tall and skilled interior players, assuming that Bynum and Gasol in fact show up for the entire series. When Gasol plays the way he did Saturday night, this team can win an NBA Championship (yes, I am serious. Who on the Heat guards either Gasol or Bynum??). Kobe played the facilitator role adroitly, clearly SHOWING he had confidence in his teammates less than 24 hours after saying Artest was only guy he “knew he could count on” in the media. Actions speak louder than words, and Kobe’s actions Saturday were the epitome of leadership.
The Lakers also have an interesting edge in the potential matchup of a focused and intense Ron Artest guarded both Kevin Durant and James Harden. Forget the Altered Beast elbow momentarily. Artest is still as good an off-the-ball defender as there is in the NBA. He has the potential to make either expend a ton of energy just to GET the basketball. That can wear on a player over the course of a long series, which I think we can expect this one to be.
For Oklahoma City, the advantages are many as well; namely Russell Westbrook versus Ramon Sessions. Look for Westbrook to exploit his physical advantage and to have an enormous series. Everyone knows Westbrook is a volume shooter – however, if he can also be an efficient one, this team becomes nearly unstoppable. Their big three, including NBA leading scorer Kevin Durant and sixth man of the year, James Harden, this team can score, and score, and score.
They also have a MUCH better defensive interior than Denver possessed. Serge Ibaka is a Dwight Howard-like interior defender only minus the fanfare. Kendrick Perkins is a workhorse underneath as well. Nick Collinson provides adequate depth off the bench if they need a few extra fouls.
Matchup wise, this series is going to be so spectacular, I can’t wait to watch it. I think it will be very competitive and is destined to go six or seven games. I think OKC gets the win tonight, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if LA catches them a bit flat-footed and sluggish and steals Game One. For that reason, I can’t see laying eight points on the Thunder.
Free Pick: Los Angeles Lakers +7.5