March 29, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard James Harden (13) guards Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) during the second half of the game at the Staples Center. Thunder won 102-93. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE
The Los Angeles Lakers will face the Oklahoma City Thunder tonight. This series could very well provide a glimpse of who the new champion could be. I consider the Thunder the favorites for the O'Brien Trophy if picking favorites even mattered. The Lakers? We know what this team could be, if only they could string along long stretches of championship-caliber play. The Thunder don't have that problem. They're consistent and now, have an increased motivation to go with their fresh ambition. These aren't the same Lakers from 2010, and these aren't the same Thunder.
Here are some thoughts:
The series features serious star power, with each team trotting out a high-end big three. Oklahoma City's combo of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden brings, among other things, scoring punch and athleticism, while the Lakers counter with the length, experience and skill of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Lovers of subplots and intrigue will have a field day, too, starting with the NBA's two leading scorers facing off in a battle of old vs. new guard. Metta World Peace and Harden will share the floor for the first time since this happened. Bynum and Gasol each have narratives to repair.
And, of course, the Lakers face a motivated Derek Fisher in a playoff series. The citizenry fears getting .4'd.
I'm a lover of subplots, and I'm intrigued by the thought of what this means for the immediate future of the NBA depending on the winner. Admit it, you're secretly fearing Fisher roasting the Lakers at least once, when it matters the most.
James Harden is going to be a problem for a variety of reasons. Who guards him when he shares the court with both Westbrook and Durant is one of the major concerns going into this series. I mean, if Kobe is going to guard Westbrook (which seems like the best strategy to slow him) and Ron guards KD (ditto), does that mean Sessions guards Harden? Blake? Do the Lakers go to an unconventional lineup just for defensive purposes?
Ahh, James Harden. The stage will be on him and Metta World Peace as we'll get overloaded with talk of Ron Ron's over-"celebration." Harden's the one guy it seems the Lakers might not be able to answer. MWP has already come out and said he will not shake hands. Yeah, keep it that way. This series is going to be tough. Hopefully, the Lakers will play defense ALL series long. Bynum (yeah, the one mostly responsible for the defense) thinks defense can lead the Lakers to a championship. Again. Ya don't say?
Do you realize Kobe has never been beaten by an upstart? This series will determine the immediate future of the NBA, and so far, Kobe's hunger has prevented that future from ever happening.
Myles Brown, Slam:
For a career as embattled as the 33-year-old Bryant's, it's strange to consider that he's never had a rival. Yes, there have been feuds, yet no opponent has continually stood between him and greatness. There was no Bird to his Magic, no Wilt to his Russell, not even a Drexler to his Jordan. There's just been Kobe, left to battle with his own demons, which may or may not even exist depending on your opinion of the man. Over the past few seasons, though, the cognoscenti have found a new foe to stare Kobe down every night: numbers.
What else? Perception is the only battle Kobe keeps fighting. Will something give this time? I can't wait for tonight.
*In other news, LeBron gets his excuse, and the Knicks are acting like they don't want Phil Jackson. Kyrie Irving wins Rookie of the Year.
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