8 Reasons Why Los Angeles Lakers Will Sweep Oklahoma City Thunder
It has been an interesting season for the Los Angeles Lakers.
They kicked off the offseason by trading for Chris Paul, shooting them up the power rankings of the league.
Of course, NBA commissioner David Stern had other ideas, and rendered that trade kaput.
The Lakers then got pushed back to the pack, and the subsequent trade of Lamar Odom for essentially a bucket of cash further cut into their postseason prospects.
But a funny thing happened along the way to basketball obscurity.
The Lakers kept winning, and after a midseason deal for Ramon Sessions, they finally have an athletic point guard to help on both sides of the ball.
Heading into their presumed second-round matchup against Oklahoma City, the Lakers have plenty of reasons for optimism.
Here are eight reasons why they will not only beat Oklahoma City, but they will sweep the Thunder.
Size Up Front
The Oklahoma City Thunder have perhaps the best backcourt in the league and they have arguably the best scorer in the game.
But what they don't have is a lot of depth up front.
Serge Ibaka is a strong, athletic big man, but he can't be everywhere at once.
Kendrick Perkins is also a strong big, but he has been limited lately, and is listed as day-to-day with a strained left hip muscle.
So provided that Perkins is able to play starting in Game 1, will his hip allow him to bang down low with the likes of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol?
Let me ask you this, have you ever played physical defense in basketball? If so, do you remember using your hips?
Of course you did. Your hips are the key to your lateral movement, and they allow you to anchor your lower body to keep the opponent off balance.
With Perkins likely limited, that leaves just the foul-prone Ibaka (nearly three per game for his career), the aging Nazr Mohammed and the underwhelming Nick Collison manning the middle.
Of those three, only Ibaka is a shot-blocking threat, making it a strong possibility that Bynum and Gasol will be able to score at will down low.
Different Defensive Looks Against Durant
Don't get me wrong, Kevin Durant is going to get his points. Nobody has figured out a way to stop the talented forward.
But the key is making him work for those points.
During the season, Durant averaged just under 29 points per game against the Lakers.
That's the good news for OKC.
The bad news is that it took him a lot to get those points.
Against the Lakers, he shot just 42 percent from the field.
He only shot worse against five other teams this season.
The Lakers can throw a number of different looks at Durant.
Metta World Peace can provide strength, Matt Barnes can provide athleticism and quickness and Devin Ebanks can provide a little bit of both.
Top it off with Jordan Hill providing length, and the Lakers have four distinctly different looks they can throw at Durant.
For some teams, having a little bit of rest in between series can be a blessing.
But for others, having prolonged time off can be a hindrance.
Typically, veteran teams with aging players can use a few days off. That's why the Spurs likely won't be too bad even if they have a long layoff.
But a young team that is firing on all cylinders does not need time off.
Take last year for example.
The Thunder dealt with Denver in relatively quick fashion, but then had a few days off to think about it.
The result, they lost two of their first three games in the next round against Memphis.
Sure, the Thunder eventually disposed of the Grizzlies, but that was an inexperienced, young team. The Lakers are battle tested, and slipping up in the first few games won't do well for their prospects.
We all know about the Lakers' starting lineup.
But what has really set the tone in their matchup against Denver has been the players that come off the bench.
I know what you are thinking. How can a team that routinely has been running an eight-man rotation in the playoffs be considered deep?
For the Lakers, it isn't quantity, but rather quality.
Jordan Hill, Steve Blake, and Matt Barnes have been huge in their four games against the Nuggets.
Hill has been a beast on the boards, Barnes has provided good defense, and Blake is deadly from long range.
Add to that the fact that World Peace will be returning for the second round of the playoffs, and you have a team that is truly nine good players deep.
The fact of the matter is that this team is hitting their stride at the right time, and the bench is a key to that.
Lakers Can Limit Harden
Okay, so this might not be fair, but James Harden might not be looking forward to playing the Lakers.
The unfair part is that the last time these two teams hooked up, Harden ended up with a raging headache.
But besides that game, Harden hasn't been exactly at his best against the Lakers.
Overall this year, Harden averaged nearly 17 points per game.
But against the Lakers, he averaged only about 13.
The Lakers have multiple players that they can throw at Harden, not the least of whom being Kobe Bryant, one of the best defensive players of the last two decades.
So why is Harden so important?
Durant and Westbrook are the best players on this team, but their numbers don't sway much from game to game.
Both average about the same amount of points in wins and losses alike.
But Harden is perhaps the biggest determining factor in Thunder wins.
In losses, Harden averages about three fewer points per game, commits more turnovers, and shoots from deep at a much worse rate.
It seems that if the Lakers have any player in particular that they must limit, it is Harden.
But more importantly, they appear to be able to deliver on it.
The Oklahoma City Thunder led the league in turnovers this year with an astounding 16.3 per game.
This is due to a number of different issues.
First, they are a team that is dominated by their back court and swingmen, and do not have a reliable post game on offense.
This leads to a lot of jump shots, and not a ton of easy baskets down low. When a team has to generate all of their offense from the perimeter, it leads to too much dribbling, too many passes, and too many one-on-one offensive possessions.
Secondly, their point guard, Russell Westbrook, is a one-man turnover machine. Westbrook committed the third most turnovers in the league.
However, he wasn't even the biggest turnover culprit on his own team. That honor belongs to Durant.
During the regular season, a team can commit turnovers and it won't necessarily effect their chances of winning.
But in the playoffs when every possession counts, turning the ball over can be deadly.
The last three NBA champs have finished no worse than 12th in the league in turnovers per game during the regular season.
In fact, only the 2008 Boston Celtics have finished near the bottom of the league and won the title in the last decade, and they were only high in turnovers because it was the first year that the Big Three were together.
To make matters worse, the Thunder actually turn the ball over more in losses, with an astounding 17 turnovers per game this year.
The Lakers are a veteran team that is good at forcing turnovers, not exactly something that bodes well for the Thunder.
There are two essential basketball traits that must be possessed in order to win in the playoffs.
One of those traits is low-post scoring.
In the last two decades, only one team has won a title without a dominant low-post scorer.
However, that team had perhaps the best player of all time on their squad.
That's right, only the Bulls have won a title without a dominant low-post scorer.
That being said, a lot of the Bulls offense was run through Michael Jordan in the post, so they really don't count.
Every other team had a reliable low-post scorer that they could count on to supplement their perimeter game.
The Thunder don't have that type of reliable post scorer.
So why is this important?
A reliable low-post scorer provides easy buckets. The playoffs typically hinge on half court offense, and without a low post threat, teams tend to become too one-dimensional.
The Lakers have this, the Thunder don't.
Like low-post scoring, defense is essential for postseason success.
But while there are occasional outliers when it comes to successful teams without a post game, defense is much more crucial.
In the past 10 years, only two teams that won the title, the 2006 Miami Heat and the 2009 Lakers, finished outside the Top 10 in opponents' points per game.
The Heat finished tied for 11th, and the Lakers were number 13.
This year, the Thunder are ranked 17th in the league.
Teams that are built like Oklahoma City are great in the regular season, but in the postseason they become exposed.
The Lakers are just the team to expose them, and they could do so in four games.