Will the real Oklahoma City Thunder please stand up? The team that gave the Lakers fits as an eighth seed in last year’s playoffs was missing several key players for its showdown Sunday with Los Angeles.
Yet it was two near misses away from sending this one into overtime, as the Lakers escaped Oklahoma with a 90-87 come from behind win on the road.
Two key players who were involved in the same blockbuster trade a week earlier—Oklahoma’s reliable scoring forward Jeff Green (15.2 points per game with the Thunder) and one of the league’s better immovable objects in the paint, 6’10”, 280-pound Kendrick Perkins of the Celtics—switched teams, with the latter sitting out the Lakers game due to a knee injury that hasn’t healed yet.
So the new-look Thunder played the Lakers to a virtual standstill Sunday and did so without all guns loaded.
Los Angeles has come out of the All-Star break looking refreshed and playing much better than the impostors who went into Cleveland and proceeded to play like your local YMCA pickup squad. With their sloppy 90-79 win at Minnesota on Tuesday, the Lakers' latest winning streak reached five games.
But the fact remains that Oklahoma is a rising power in the NBA, and the acquisition of Perkins means they’re serious about trying to take those next steps towards a championship now and for the next few seasons. The Lakers may indeed face the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals.
The question which begs to be answered: Does Oklahoma City have enough thunder to finally rain down on the Lakers' parade and send them running for cover in 2011?