Beast or Burden: Dark Times

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 14: Andrew Bynum #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers tries to drive on Kendrick Perkins #5 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game One of the Western Conference Semifinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on May 14, 2012 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Oklahoma City defeated Los Angeles 119-90. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using the photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)

The problem with yesterday's utter annihilation is fishing for notes of optimism amid a huge cloud of negativity, and frankly, it's pretty difficult. The obvious conclusion to draw is that the Thunder are simply better than the Lakers, which is hardly outlandish. They executed better, had far more energy and played to their strengths in a focused and determined manner. You could say that a lack of rest for the Lakers and quite a bit of it for the Thunder was a key factor, but that is one that will persist for the entire series because the NBA has seen fit not only to not give the Lakers a whole lot of rest, but schedule a pair of back-to-back for the Lakers' stand at Staples Center, hardly an ideal solution for an older team. The shooting numbers for the Thunder look unsustainable, but for the most part, they were attempts taken in the flow of the offense and most of them were open for that matter. Altogether, the Lakers are simply going to have to manufacture reasons in Game 2 to help their fans see any light at the end of the tunnel. At the moment, there is precious little to indicate that this is one that the Lakers have even a puncher's chance in.

Beast

  • Andrew Bynum -- Bynum was basically the only player who didn't embarrass himself in Game 1, and he no doubt felt liberated by the absence of hard doubles -- Russell Westbrook in particular looked tentative over whether he should do so -- and ability to work his craft against one defender. Injury or no, Kendrick Perkins didn't come remotely close to stopping Bynum, who is a far different beast than say Dwight Howard, to whom Perkins owes a good deal of his defensive reputation. Not only is Bynum harder to push away from the basket simply by virtue of sheer mass, he is hardly disadvantaged as Howard is by being farther from the low block due to his arsenal of fadeaways, sweet hook shots and up and unders. Of course, this meant that he touched the ball not nearly as much as he should, notably since the Thunder did not make it anywhere as difficult as Denver did to inbound the ball into the post. For the Lakers to have any shot in this series, Bynum needs to be someone that is constantly utilized on the low block, both from a schematic perspective and the fact that if Bynum gets remotely disinterested, the playoffs are basically over for the Lakers.

Burden

  • Offensive execution -- For a brief spell in the first quarter, the ball movement looked solid. Bigs were throwing some sweet interior passes, shooters were being found, and the ball was being hammered towards the rim. All that eventually dissipated as the game went on and it's difficult to assign that completely to the Thunder. Aside from Thabo Sefolosha's superb individual defense on Kobe Bryant, who did his share in stifling the overall flow by trying his utmost to crank difficult shots over Sefolosha. Indeed, the seminal moment of the game for Kobe was when he had Derek Fisher (!) on him in the high post and instead of blasting right past him towards the rim, he settled for a fadeaway shot that missed. That's unacceptable. The Thunder are a good defensive team but the talent gap does not mean that there are not mismatches for the Lakers to exploit. The utter disappearance of pick-and-roll play -- especially for Ramon Sessions, who has basically been turned into a glorified triangle guard, something that is a complete waste of his talents -- to force the bigs away from the rim and open space for everyone else deserves scrutiny, particularly since those were the plays the Lakers enjoyed so much success with in the regular season. The 1-2 (Sessions-Kobe), 4-5 (Gasol-Bynum), and 2-4 (Kobe-Gasol) pick-and-rolls have seemingly fallen by the way side and the last time a guard set a cross screen for a big to get good position seems ages ago. As maligned as Mike Brown has been, there have been things in his system that simply worked and they are not being utilized enough.
  • Defensive intensity -- Foremost among the items that need to be fixed is the Lakers' pick-and-roll defense. Westbrook may not consistently hit all those midrange jumpers off the dribble for the rest of the series, but either way, the Lakers need to trap him far harder before that even becomes an option. As yours truly and others noted before the series, Perkins and Serge Ibaka are not offensive powerhouses. JaVale McGee and Al Harrington -- the issue of whether the former was really a threat created by sheer laziness from the Lakers' interior defenders aside -- were threats the Lakers needed to respect, and while Ibaka has gotten much better in this regard, he is not nearly the floor spacer that Harrington is. As understandably tentative as Bynum is to leave the paint, he needs to be hedging hard, as does Gasol and Jordan Hill, the latter of whom needs to show the lateral quickness that made him such an effective pick-and-roll defender in the last regular season matchup against Oklahoma City. Finally, the Lakers need to take far better care of the defensive boards, as while Westbrook and Kevin Durant inevitably scoring is acceptable, the putbacks and easy points gotten by everyone else is not. It will be difficult for the Lakers to pull a game out even if they limit these kinds of opportunities because the Thunder are simply that much of an offensive powerhouse, but they certainly have no chance if they do not.
  • The effort gap -- As noted above, rest was a legitimate problem for the Lakers coming into this series and is one mostly self-manufactured due to the Lakers' unwillingness to put Denver away in five games instead of seven. Tired legs or no, however, there simply needs to be more fire from the Lakers. Bynum needs to dominate the interior, Gasol has to get out of the playoff funk he reentered in Game 1 after a brief respite in the closing game last series, and Kobe has to play a controlled game and ensure that the offense is humming. Kobe, moreover, got roasted by Westbrook on defense and it barely looked like he was making an impact. Needless to say, this will be a short series if he can't effectively contain the second pillar of the Thunder attack. Playoff collapses for this iteration of the Lakers have been ugly and that trend could very well repeat in this series, but they could at least go down fighting.
Follow this author on Twitter @brosales12.
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