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Last night, the OKC Thunder were able to beat the Miami Heat with stellar defense from their front court. With Kendrick Perkins added to the fold, the Thunder were able to force LeBron James and Dwyane Wade into off nights, shooting just 8-21 and 7-21, respectively. Perkins, Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, and Nazr Mohammed were able to do what the Lakers should have completed last week.

Brian Windhorst, ESPN Daily Dime:

"The Miami Heat were growing tired of the hands interfering with their driving lanes and the big bodies shoving them around under the basket. The frustration was showing on their faces and on the scoreboard.

Then then horn sounded and the Oklahoma City Thunder made substitutions. Sitting on the scorer's table ready to check in were Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka -- a rugged physical banger and a freakishly long-armed leaper acting as the relief.

Those sorts of moments made it a long night for the Heat as they faced the reality of the new -- and, of course, easily overlooked -- weapon that have the Thunder on a surge. When healthy, Oklahoma City now has one of the deepest, tallest and most versatile rotation of big men in the league."

Of course, we know the Heat can be exploited down low. That's been the story all season long. No matter what declarations Chris Bosh may make about getting touches in the post, I feel the Heat just don't have enough up front offensively or defensively to break through and win a championship this year. Seeing OKC bother and defeat the Heat underscores a few points regarding the Lakers that frustrate me regarding the Purple and Gold versus the Heat, and the Thunder.

1.  The Thunder are the scariest team in the West.

The Lakers' recent victories over the Spurs and Mavericks just reinforced what we've already known. Both teams just simply aren't big enough, or good enough to compete with the Lakers at maximum capacity. Are the Spurs and Mavs better than last year? Sure, but neither team can bother the Lakers upfront like the Thunder can with Serge Ibaka's athleticism added to Perkins' defensive prowess. The Thunder have the most potential of the three teams, and it will be their defense that sets them apart from the other two.

2.  Having said that...

With Andrew Bynum playing as well as he is, the Lakers (in my opinion) have the best defense in the NBA by far. Neither Ibaka, Perkins, Collison nor Mohammed can deal with Bynum. He's that much of a difference maker. It was defense that enabled them to win the past two championships, and it's Bynum's game-changing dominance that has made the Lakers 10-1 since the All-Star break, and gives the potential to be better than the previous two years.  

On Tuesday, C.A. did a wonderful job detailing Andrew's impact on defense:

In eleven games, the Lakers have been better with Andrew Bynum on the court in 10 of those games.  They have been more than .2 points per possession better in eight of those games (which, incidentally is a difference which is nearly twice the overall difference between the leagues' best defense and its worst).  In four games, that difference is .35 points per possession or higher.  The sample size, both on an individual game basis and overall, is way too small, but these numbers are ridiculous.  With Drew, the Lakers have been better than the best defenses in the land ... by 8 points per 100 possessions.  Without Drew, the Lakers have been the worse than the worst.  Maybe per possession stats aren't your cup of tea, so let me break it down simply.  Andrew Bynum's defensive presence would have the Lakers allow about 20 points less per game over an entire 48 minute contest.  That might just be responsible for the Lakers winning 10 of the last 11, no?

3.  Which brings me to the last point.

The most frustrating part of the Heat loss was the fact that I don't feel the Lakers utilized their obvious advantage enough down the stretch. The Heat needed that game like a mother f'er and the Lakers had it in their grasp, but let the Heat off the hook. No big deal for a regular season game right? Right? I dunno.

My main problem, and the the thing that worries me the most should we see the Heat in the Finals, is the Kobe vs. LeBron (and Wade) aspect.  Ready for some taboo?

  • We all know the determination of Kobe Bryant. We appreciate his passion and focus, his desire to be the greatest to ever do it. The will to dominate his era and stand amongst the absolute all-time greats. The slights he's endured throughout his career have fueled that desire year after year to keep him playing at a level that has outlasted any player compared to him. He is who he is because of that unwavering focus.

    However, once in a while, that gift becomes a curse. What we saw last Thursday against the Heat was an example of that. You know when he isn't playing the right way. You close your eyes after a bad shot, and imagine what the papers are going to say. Or what garbage will be posted on TrueHoop? We wonder if Kobe put his personal glory ahead of the team's benefit. Just as Kobe admitted the weight of the moment of Game 7 against the Celtics affected him, I feel the need for Kobe to show the world LeBron and D-Wade aren't worthy of comparison affected his decisions.

    Let's face it, Kobe coulda shoulda woulda played better in those final few minutes. It was only a regular season game, and the Heat still have a lot of work to do. Yet, it was a great opportunity to keep them questioning themselves, and to put a question mark in their heads if we see them again. Instead, Miami's fragile trio gained just a little confidence, and we're (at least me) wondering if Kobe will feel the weight of the hype and personal grudges.
  • Keep in mind that I'm a Kobe defender like the rest of you. Some of our more rabid Kobe fanbase might not want to accept this, but it deserves some thought. Ultimately, I have faith in Kobe to play the right way, but it's in the back of my mind.
  • Myles Brown wrote a superb article for Slam regarding the internal struggle of Kobe and our view of him. Make sure you read this if you haven't already:

Kobe Bryant wants to win. This is inarguable. What's equally clear is that Kobe wants to win his way. It's an attitude borne of preternatural ability and competitiveness, yet more importantly, a viewership enamored with legend making. We thirst for iconic performances; signature moments of athletic excellence which make our eyes bulge and time stand still. With every crossover, reverse pivot and nimble fadeaway, Kobe etches himself deeper into our consciousness.... When the Lakers are mentioned as title favorites, the primary reason isn't Kobe, it's their frontcourt. That doesn't mean they're better than him, it just means that's what makes them a better team. But he struggles with that notion because it conflicts with his driving force: To be the best. An admirable ambition that we've accepted even when it leads him astray.

  • It seems that Derrick Rose will win the MVP this year. If he does, I certainly have no problem with it, especially if he's able to lead the Bulls to the best record in the East, but I do feel Kobe is being overlooked. In my opinion, he's having his finest season since his MVP, and maybe even better. Such is life rooting for Kobe, though. It's overlooks and slights like these that fuel him. Good or bad. Considering that the MVP hasn't been too successful in winning the championship lately, I'll stick to superstition if it means a three-peat.
  • Note to the Maloofs: Get an original idea when it comes your your basketball team. First you want to mooch of the Lakers leftover, and move to Anaheim. It's bad enough that the Clippers leech off the Lakers, now you want a piece of the pie? To top it off, you can't even come up with a good name for your "new" team. The Royals? Like the Kings weren't redundant enough, you choose to go back to a name that MLB's Kansas City can't do anything with? Okay, so you had the name before? Is there any value to the name though? If you want a fresh start in a new city, then at least start over completely, like the Thunder did. Except the horrible jerseys OKC wears. I can't wait to see what generic high school doodle font the "Royals" use for their uniforms this time.

    You wonder why this team sucks all the time.
  • I have so much to say about the Jalen Rose / Grant Hill "Uncle Tom" argument, but I'm not sure I'm a good enough writer to make my points without it taking up five pages. They definitely touched on some explosive topics, and both make valid points. As an African-American, I feel they are both right in their arguments. It definitely deserves discussion, and I have so much to say about it. Does Duke recruit a certain type of player? Sure. But aren't the players they choose generally fit in with the typical student body of the university? Is it really about race, class, or socio-economics?

    I'm just not sure SSR is the proper podium for me to have this discussion. Feel free to email me if you're interested. 
  • Here's something else about Kobe you may not have known.... He was going to go to Duke, had he gone to college. Not because he was an "Uncle Tom," but because he fit the profile of a Duke University player. Comfortable to well off, or rich, smart kids who happen to be great at basketball.  

    I'm sure that added to premature Kobe dislike before he was drafted, amongst fans and players. Not only was he young, a little arrogant and good, but the Duke thing added to it. I hated them too. Even I had preconceived notions about Kobe before he was drafted. Mine went away though, many hold on to theirs to this day. Of course, I'm a Lakers fan.  
  • "It ain't all good, but baby, I'm cool. Feeling good, feeling great. How are you?"