NBA Playoffs Bracket 2012: Thunder Face Better Odds vs. Lakers

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistMay 6, 2012

DALLAS, TX - MAY 05:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder reacts after scoring against the Dallas Mavericks during Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Center on May 5, 2012 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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At first glance, almost no Oklahoma City Thunder fan would prefer to see the Los Angeles Lakers to the Denver Nuggets in the second round.

Sure, fans may have made peace with the inevitability of such an encounter, but that doesn't mean they have to like it.

Nevertheless, there's a good case to be made that they should like it.

The Denver Nuggets still have a chance in their series against the Lakers, and that's exactly what makes them such a scary team. Los Angeles shouldn't have lost a single game in this series, but George Karl's squad can be unpredictably good when it plays with maximum energy.

They also managed to steal one of three games against the Thunder this season. Sure, it was the last game of the season and James Harden wasn't playing, but it proved Ty Lawson could hang with Russell Westbrook and that Denver's depth could give Oklahoma City some problems.

The Nuggets also took the Thunder to overtime in Oklahoma City in a game better remembered for Kevin Durant dropping 51 points while Westbrook added another 40.

Of course, neither of these games prove the Thunder should necessarily fear the Nuggets. But, they do prove this Denver team is every bit as dangerous as the Lakers.

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 29:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder reacts after his dunk in front of Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers during a 102-93 win over the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on March 29, 2012 in Los Angeles, Ca
Harry How/Getty Images

After all, the Thunder also took two of three games against the Lakers, with the lone loss coming in double overtime.

And unlike the Nuggets—who were 18-15 on the road this season—the Lakers actually had a losing record away from the Staples Center. That becomes especially important against a Thunder team was 26-7 at home this season and owns home-court advantage in the second round.

Scott Brooks' club also has the kind of young legs that Denver's proven are more than capable of tripping the Lakers up.

Oklahoma City lost-post defenders (Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka) can slow down the Lakers' seven-footers in the half-court, but the Thunder's most significant advantage will be making those bigs run in an up-tempo game.

For all of Los Angeles' star power, the Thunder's bigger concern might be facing a lineup that's every bit as quick as they are.

Conventional wisdom will still hold that the Lakers are the team to fear, but reality maybe more kind to Oklahoma City—and dodging that sixth seed might be a blessing in disguise.