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Sifting Through The Rubble, Peering Through The Gloom

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I'm probably not the right person to be analyzing the Lakers' Game One apocalypse in Oklahoma City tonight. The problem is confirmation bias. Coming into the game I was already bearish on the Lakers' chances - it doesn't get more bearish than predicting a Thunder sweep - so every horrible thing that unfolded on the court looked and felt like validation of my pessimism. If you start with an assumption of near-hopelessness and then watch your team get jack-hammered for 48 minutes, where do you go from there? To the offseason is where, and the realization that life with the Kobe-Pau-Bynum Lakers is nearing an end.

Certainly, there's nothing from Game One to suggest the Lakers and Thunder are in the same class. From the opening tip OKC's offense ran to perfection. Russell Westbrook, even with Kobe guarding him from the outset, knocked down one elbow jumper after the next off simple high screens. He had way too much freedom to operate, and none of the adjustments Mike Brown attempted (a 3-2 zone, briefly, then sending a big man to hedge the high screen) troubled Westbrook in the least and if anything made things worse. The Lakers need to hope he starts missing some of those 14-foot shots because if he doesn't the series is unwinnable.

Many Laker fans are reassuring themselves that the Thunder won't shoot the lights out as they did tonight. Certainly, they were improbably hot for long stretches, especially in the second and third quarters. Westbrook was great, but what really sucked the life out of the Lakers is how offensive nobodies like Thabo Sefolosha (3 for 3) and Kendrick Perkins (2 for 2) looked like Glen Rice knocking down midrange J's. We shouldn't kid ourselves, though: this beatdown was more than just freaky OKC shooting. In the first quarter the Thunder shot only 50 percent, didn't make a three pointer and still scored 30 points. The game was getting out of hand before the Thunder began catching fire. The insane shooting just made everything more ugly.

As a team the Thunder committed only four turnovers the entire game. All season long I've been bitching about how the Lakers never force turnovers, and there's really not much more to say about it at this point. They don't have enough disruptive defenders to take opponents out of their sets and generate easy looks in transition. Kobe and Metta World Peace can get their hands on the ball occasionally but no one else ever does. To get away with that your team has to be impeccable in its positional defense, making every shot difficult, and as we saw in their farcical attempts to stay in front of James Harden and various other Thunders, that's not really what Steve Blake and Ramon Sessions do. OKC won't always be as sharp as they were in Game One, but the Lakers are ill-suited to exploit the Thunder's tendency to get loose with the ball.

The point-of-attack defensive breakdowns led to all sorts of problems that have nothing to do with hot shooting. When guys have to help out on penetrators, they're forced to stray from their assigned men, and when the ball gets rotated they have to scramble, reach and foul. Voila: 29 Thunder free-throw attempts in an 88-possession game. It also leaves everyone in poor position to collect defensive boards. Hence the Thunder had 13 second-chance points... in the first half alone. (They had 21 for the game, to the Lakers' 11.)

Look, I could go on. Tonight was a calamity in every respect. I happen to think this Lakers team doesn't have the talent, the legs or the hunger to hang in this series, but many of you remain hopeful. That's cool. I'm wrong about shit all the time and I could be here. To me, the crucial game isn't Game Two but Game Three back at Staples. If the Lakers spring a shocking upset on Wednesday night, awesome, but I see their best bet as making a two-game stand back on their home court, turning it into a short series and hoping the pressure gets to the young Thunder. It's nice to dream, I suppose.

If you want the OKC perspective be sure to check out the recap over at Welcome to Loud City. Be nice, of course. They deserve to enjoy an evening the rest of us would prefer to forget.










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Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.

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