The Los Angeles Lakers are facing off against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2012 Western Conference Semifinals, and the matchup already looks intriguing, despite a blowout Thunder win in Game 1. How the Lakers match up to the Thunder at each position will have a heavy influence on this series.
With fantastic players like Andrew Bynum, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden on the court, these will be some of the best individual matchups of the playoffs.
Here's a position-by-position break down of the Lakers vs. Thunder and which team has the edge at each spot.
The point guard position has been a huge concern for the Lakers over the past few seasons. The deadline trade this season for Ramon Sessions was supposed to remedy that moving forward.
Sessions is a good point guard, who can run an offense well, hit outside shots and make plays. However, his defense leaves something to be desired. Sessions can't guard Russell Westbrook and won't. Kobe Bryant will still have to guard him, so it doesn't do much in helping the Lakers in this series.
Westbrook has had a great season and might be an All-NBA first team player. He's big, athletic and dynamic. It will be all Bryant can do to stop him in this series.
This will be one of the best individual matchups to watch in the playoffs for true basketball aficionados. Kobe Bryant is one of the best scorers of all time. At 6'6" with the offensive arsenal he has, Bryant is the most obvious heir to Michael Jordan. He's also extremely savvy offensively, getting any and every advantage he possibly can.
Thabo Sefolosha is one of the best perimeter defenders in the game. He's a bit bigger than Bryant and just as long. He guards him as well as anyone in the league. He's a minor contributor on offense, mostly as a spot-up shooter, but his defense is what keeps him on the floor.
Bryant is the better player for obvious reasons, but Sefolosha's defense will give him problems, forcing him to take tough shots.
Kevin Durant is one of the best players in the world, and has entered the conversation as possibly the best. He's a three-time scoring champ and can put the ball in the basket from literally anywhere on the floor. At 6'9", Durant has length and size on the perimeter that is unrivaled.
Metta World Peace is a good defensive guy who can hit outside shots. He isn't the player he used to be in Ron Artest (in more ways than one), but he is still a major contributor for the Lakers. He may be a little crazy, but that isn't always a bad thing.
Durant has shown that he can score on World Peace over the last few seasons, and his offense is better than Metta's defense, especially at this point in the careers of each.
Pau Gasol is arguably the most offensively gifted post player in the NBA. He's 7'0" and has such a myriad of post moves that he can score almost any way he wants. Passing and rebounding also aren't foreign concepts to this Spanish big man.
Serge Ibaka has developed a much-deserved reputation as the most talented shot-blocker in the NBA. He averaged 3.5 swats per game this season. Although he has huge upside, Ibaka is still very raw. He's supremely athletic, but can be had by more experienced guys.
That's the difference in this matchup. Gasol's experience over Ibaka makes him the better player right now.
Andrew Bynum is one of the best young centers in the game. Actually, you can just scratch the young part. Bynum is a beast inside, a legit seven-footer who can score and rebound at will. His attitude has been a concern, but when he's on, he's incredibly dominant.
Kendrick Perkins is a defensive stalwart who won a ring against the Lakers back in 2008. He still performs that role with the Thunder, and though he isn't an offensive whiz, his defense more than makes up for it. Few players have the demeanor and defensive know-how of Perkins in the low post.
Bynum is too good and too big for Perkins to shut down.The Thunder center has defended him well in the past, and he'll make Bynum work really hard for all his points in this series. However, Bynum is good enough now that he can score anyway.
Sorry Laker fans, this one isn't even close.
Obviously, the main reason that the Thunder win this category is because of newly-crowned Sixth Man of the Year James Harden. Harden is a bearded beast off the bench, leading one of the best second units in the NBA by averaging 16.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists. Nick Collison, Daequan Cook and former Laker Derek Fisher also make plays for that unit.
The Lakers do have a better second unit than they had in the past. Steve Blake can really shoot at times, and Jordan Hill may be a big part of the Lakers' future. Matt Barnes has shown some nice thing at times, but other than that, the Lakers' bench is pretty bare.
The head coaching matchup is also an interesting one. Mike Brown is one of the most underrated coaches in this league. After stints as an assistant with the San Antonio Spurs and Indiana Pacers, Brown made his name as the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James. A defensive specialist, Brown is one of the most detail-oriented and thorough coaches in the league.
Scott Brooks is a young coach, which fits with his young team. Brooks was an assistant with the Denver Nuggets, Sacramento Kings and Seattle Supersonics before getting a shot as the head coach of the Thunder. He's done a great job helping this young team grow into a potential dynasty, earning Coach of the Year honors in 2010.
Brown would normally get the nod here simply for having more experience. However, there are questions about whether or not the Lakers respect him in the wake of the departure of Phil Jackson. The Thunder have grown up with Brooks, who is the only coach their superstars have ever had in the NBA.