Six games into what's become a very back-and-forth series, the Lakers will finally have the opportunity to end the series tonight, and put the Thunder away for good. It's worth nothing that the home team has yet to lose in this series.
Whether or not the Lakers succeed tonight, here are the key issues they will need to address if they are to advance to the next round.
That’s the goal. Obvious, right?
Today will either be the first day of the rest of the Lakers' championship bid or a day they'll forever regret.
In the event that the Thunder do manage to push the series to seven games, the consensus is the Lakers would win handily in Los Angeles, but that theory is just that—a theory—and it remains far from certain.
Yes, the Lakers have taken care of the Thunder in all three of their home games thus far, but both of their first two contests at the Staples Center saw the Lakers take big-time double digit leads only to squander them by the start of the fourth quarter.
While the Lakers did answer some of the questions surrounding their ability to play championship basketball for an entire four quarters with a dominating performance in Game Five, one can hardly think they’d want to afford the deep and athletic Thunder any more opportunities than they have to.
The Lakers need to deliver a knock-out blow tonight or risk boosting the morale of an already hungry, younger team.
The days of Kobe dropping 30, 35, 40 points as routinely as LeBron James are over, at least for the time being.
Whether or not Kobe’s injuries, his age, or both have caught up to him for good is debatable. The fact that he needs to accept a lesser scoring role isn’t.
As of April 30, 2010, Pau Gasol is the best scorer Los Angeles has to offer, period.
While Kobe’s track record earned him the benefit of the doubt for the majority of the season, the buck has to stop somewhere. Kobe cannot continue to shoot under 40 percent and lead the Lakers in scoring if he’s not interested in seeing the Lakers fall by the wayside.
The Lakers have proven to be most effective when Gasol is treated as the No. 1 scoring option, while Kobe and Andrew Bynum alternate between two and three. In this scenario Kobe needs to also act as a decoy, using his excellent footwork and court vision to orchestrate the Laker offense.
I get it.
Fisher has become a legitimate staple in the Laker legacy. He’s been a model citizen, a solid locker room presence, and a symbol of team pride for the last decade.
I get it.
But at some point the Lakers, or rather, Phil Jackson is going to have to choose between paying homage to Fisher’s tremendous contributions and winning, and that day is coming much sooner than they may have hoped.
Starting Derek Fisher is no longer imprudent, it's suicide.
Though the Lakers have finally decided to defend speedy Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook with Kobe, Fisher’s size and speed will have him at a disadvantage against the majority of starters that he will face-off with not only in this round, but for the duration of the playoffs.
The lion’s share of Fisher’s contributions come from his leadership. He plays with confidence and with physicality and outside of Lamar Odom, the Laker bench has been lacking both for the entire season… so what’s the hold-up?
Even some of the all-time greatest players have ridden the pine at one point or another.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Andrew Bynum is the best center in the Western Conference. Minus Dwight Howard, he’s the best in the league.
No other center in the NBA today has Bynum’s strength, athleticism, and skill.
Due to the Lakers' depth of offensive talent, Bynum doesn’t put up monstrous stats—unless he gets going. In football, offensive players that become more elusive and potent as they continue to advance are called downhill runners.
Well, Bynum’s a downhill center.
Once you get him going, his confidence skyrockets and he blocks, rebounds, and scores like a man possessed. It's fitting that the number Bynum wears (17) is exactly half the number Shaquille O’Neal wore during his time in Los Angeles (34).
Bynum may not have the indefensible physique that Shaq once did, but the nature of his game still somewhat mirrors that of the early 2000’s Shaq. Like Shaq, Bynum is big, strong, skilled, and prides himself on being an intimidator. Most teams, the Thunder included, have no answer for a player of his stature at the center position.
For the Lakers to succeed not only tonight, but for the duration of the playoffs, they will need to continue to defer to Andrew Bynum. Keeping his confidence and production high will be one of the main determinants in whether the Lakers will repeat as champions.
Lamar Odom’s been quiet…too quiet.
Though Odom’s offensive role was reduced the instant Pau Gasol touched down in L.A., Kobe’s latest setbacks require the Lakers to find an alternate source of power—and turning solely to Gasol won’t get the job done.
During last year’s playoffs, Odom was the NBA’s most productive and versatile sixth man.
When the Lakers needed points inside, Odom banged in the paint. When the Lakers needed to ice a game, Odom provided the chill from outside, and regardless of what the Lakers needed, he turned in double-digit rebounding nights as often as it rains in Seattle.
Odom was the main reason the Lakers survived Bynum’s injury-hampered playoff debut as the Lakers’ starting center en route to the 2009 NBA title. The Lakers will need more of the same from Odom to return to championship form.
- Ron Artest likely won't shut up Kevin Durant altogether, but he must continue to be as effective as possible in trying to acquaint Kevin Durant with the Fifth Amendment .
- Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown need to continue to supply sparks off the bench, particularly given that Farmar and Brown are easily two of the most athletic players the Lakers have to matchup against the Thunder.
- Kobe must continue to muzzle Westbrook.
- Phil Jackson needs to be more involved in-game rather than from game-to-game. Yes Phil, we know you aren’t a fan of breaking the other team’s momentum by using your precious timeouts, but if the time comes where you need to decide between using a timeout or watching a 10-point Laker deficit avalanche to 20, we hope you’ll make the right call.