May 14, 2012; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) dunks the ball while being guarded by Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum (17) during the second half in game one of the Western Conference semifinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-US PRESSWIRE
The Lakers find themselves down 0-1 in the second round against a very good Oklahoma City squad. The strengths and weaknesses of both teams have been analyzed to death. The Game 1 thrashing has been discussed to the point that nearly 50% of the Lakers fan base now has a prescription for Prozac. There is really nothing else I can provide in terms of X's and O's, line-up advantages, or any other stats-based analysis that will reveal the secret to beating the Thunder. It really boils down to effort and therein lies the problem.
From ESPN's Scouts Inc preview of the series:
The single biggest factor in whether the Lakers beat the Thunder will be the play of Bynum and Gasol. If they show up every game and are aggressive and assertive the Lakers can win this series.
It would seem asinine that a group of professional athletes who make millions can't find the focus to put in 30 to 40 minutes of hard work every other night, yet that is potentially the Lakers' biggest weakness. Now let me be clear, I do think the Lakers gave quite a bit of effort in Game 1 until it was well out of hand. They just ran into a red hot shooting Thunder team at the same time as they began to run out of gas. But one of the reasons the Lakers found themselves running on fumes is because they allowed the previous series that should have been over quickly to go the full distance. As they say, you reap what you sow. The Lakers planted seeds of inconsistency and complacency and now the are reaping the rewards of fatigue and exhaustion.
I can understand how inconsistency and complacency can set in during a long and grueling regular season, but not in the playoffs. There is no team in the league that goes through the motions with minimal effort in the playoffs like the Lakers and it isn't a secret either.
A few other quotes from various media sources.
From NBA.com's Charley Rosen:
Five things to watch for
2) Considering his history of loafing and pouting when he doesn't get as many touches as he thinks he should, will Bynum come to play every minute of every game?
And there is ESPN's 5-on-5 piece:
Fact or Fiction: The Thunder have the better big three at the moment
Adande: Fact... If Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum could pitch in 35 rebounds and 10 blocked shots a night the way they did last game, they and Kobe would get the nod. But they've been too inconsistent throughout the playoffs.
Palmer: Fact. Primarily because they bring it every night... When the Lakers' big three are operating at maximum capacity, they've got it hands down. But those days are fewer and farther between, especially with Andrew Bynum smack in the middle of one of his patented funks.
Thorpe: In any one game, I'd choose L.A.'s big three. The Gasol-Bynum post-to-post action might be the best two-man action in the NBA today from two frontcourt players. But in a seven-game series, I'll lean OKC's way. More consistent, more mature, more spirited and invested towards each other.
Perhaps most telling is Thorpe's last sentence. He views OKC as the "more consistent" and "more mature" team. That is a testament to OKC doing things the right way with the right types of players, but it also is a shot directly at the Lakers. Most of the Lakers have been together for multiple seasons and have won a title together, yet they aren't as "mature" as the Thunder? I can't say I disagree which is what is so frustrating as a Lakers fan.
The sky is the limit with this team. They have all the talent needed to compete for a title, but despite the rotation being comprised of predominantly veterans, they aren't mature enough. They, particularly Bynum, frequently mail in games. It's something almost unheard of in the playoffs, yet the Lakers big men have both been known to do just that.
Do the Lakers have the talent to beat the Thunder? I don't know. What I do know is that if they don't give a full effort they won't have a chance. If they show up every game and leave everything on the floor, it may still not be enough to win the series. But such an effort would allow them to hold their heads up high and make the fan base proud. In the end that is all we can ask for. The question now is whether we are asking too much.