It's been a while since the Los Angeles Lakers have actually been considered the "underdog" in a playoff series, but this year, that is exactly what they are against the young Oklahoma City Thunder.
Kevin Durant, one of the best players in the league, will not be the only concern of the Lakers. They also have to deal with the explosive Russell Westbrook, the finesse sixth man James Harden and even the tough interior presence of Kendrick Perkins.
A shorter season also favors the younger team, which the Thunder are against an older Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.
This, however, does not mean they will lose. Here are five reasons why the Lakers can pull off an upset against the Thunder.
Sure, the Nuggets gave the Lakers a run for their money by making the series go all the way. But winning Game 7 means a lot to Los Angeles. This gives them not only an emotional win, but a strong one to advance to the next round. They currently have a lot of momentum riding into Game 1 tonight in OKC.
The Thunder, on the other hand, swept the defending champs. They have had over 10 days of rest, but sometimes too much rest is not a good thing. They will start off the series rusty, while the Lakers have the advantage of playing 48 hours ago, going with the flow and using their momentum to their advantage.
Metta World Peace is back. He shut down Danilo Gallinari in the pivotal Game 7 versus Denver and looks to do the same against the Thunder.
Getting a harsh suspension from the league after the elbow to Harden will motivate the defensive star. Unlike Barnes, World Peace will take the open three and be more aggressive with it, resulting in more opportunities for him to prove himself on the offensive end.
Steve Blake played well for the Lakers in the last series and is looking solid for them of off the bench. If he keeps up his stellar play, and if Ramon Sessions shows a little bit more experience, the Lakers' "X" factors will also help them upset the Thunder.
The Lakers lost Derek Fisher to the same Thunder that they will be facing, but they still have much more experience.
Kobe Bryant has five championship rings and over hundreds of playoff game experience. Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum have a couple of rings of their own.
Although he is no Phil Jackson, Mike Brown coached the Cleveland Cavaliers deep into the Eastern Conference playoffs and even into the finals.
Matt Barnes has been in the playoffs several times, along with other players on the Lakers roster.
The Thunder are still relatively new to the postseason, though, and they will likely show their lack of experience at times, which will hurt them.
Yes, Kobe Bryant is still one of the best players in the NBA today. Having him on your team alone gives you a fighting chance.
This man single-handedly almost beat the Phoenix Suns in the playoffs when his starters included Smush Parker and Kwame Brown.
He showed in Game 7 against Denver that he did not need to score for the Lakers to win, and he can go into his play-making mode to help the team win.
On defense, Bryant can guard either Durant, Westbrook or Harden. Watch for any of those possible matchups.
When needed, Bryant can score at will and hit clutch shots. OKC will have to be on their top defensive game to make Kobe struggle.
Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol are the best frontcourt in the NBA when they want to be.
If and when both are motivated and playing at their best, the Lakers are virtually unbeatable. In the crucial Game 7 against Denver, they combined for 20 offensive rebounds and 10 blocks, and they each added over 15 points.
They can handle the paint.
While Perkins has held his own against Bynum in the past, he looks like another type of player this season when he plays to his full potential.
Serge Ibaka will have a tough time guarding Gasol when he gets down low in the paint.
Defensively, Bynum and Gasol should have no problem guarding Perkins and Ibaka with their non-factor offensive games.
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