Archives For April 2010

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Holding on by a thread is still holding on.  And after being able to hold on just long enough, the Lakers now find themselves up 2-0 after beating the Thunder 95-92 on Tuesday night.  Just like game 1, this second contest of the series wasn’t always pretty (in fact, the majority of this one was quite the opposite), but the job got done.  But even in the ugliest of games, there is still beauty.

And now because I can’t coherently wrap my mind around all the facets of this game, here’s a break down bullet style:

*Early the game, I thought Kobe was truly seeking out and looking to have one of those games.  He was very aggressive with his shot and it seemed like he was really trying to find the rhythm that has eluded him for some time.  And while he started out well – making 4 of his first 8 shots – that success would not last.  However, as Kobe is known to do, he found ways to score the ball.  He went to the line 15 times and made 13.  He shot the three ball fairly well making 2 of his 5 attempts.  In the end, his 28 shots were likely too many but he scored 39 points on the night and the Lakers needed every single one of them to win.  The argument could be made that if Kobe spreads the ball around more and other players (namely Gasol) gets more looks that the Lakers like have more of a cushion throughout the game – and I really don’t disagree with that.  But, this is the player that Kobe is.  He’s willful in his approach and there will be games where his mindset is to put his stamp on the game.  And in those contests you need him to be at least as effective as he was tonight if the Lakers are going to win.  Personally, I’m glad he had a game like this in him.

*Pau Gasol continues to amaze me.  8-14 from the filed 9-13 from the FT line for 25 points.  12 rebounds (5 offensive) and two assists.  And while he missed a crunch time FT and wasn’t as active on defense as he’s been in past games, he really played a great game.  It’s not that he did anything spectacularly, but just that he did so many things right.  The way he moves around the paint on the offensive glass to get a tip in; how he positions himself after making the catch on the right block so he’s a threat to drive both baseline or middle and leaves himself options; the way he dives at the right time or finds open space to make a catch on the interior.  He’s not the most physical presence, but the man is a basketball player and he’s consistently doing more things correctly than not.  I appreciate that.

*The Thunder are an athletic and scrappy team.  They just fight for every inch and play hard for every second.  You see it in how they front the post, how the rotate on defense, and how they protect their basket.  They had 17 blocks in this game.  17!  Through sheer will and determination, they hustled back on defense, clogged the paint, and contested every shot taken.  After the game when Scott Brooks spoke of being proud of his guys and praised them even in defeat, I understood exactly what he was saying – his guys battled, but they came up short.  After games like this you don’t hold your head or get down on yourself.  You use it as inspiration for the next game.  The Lakers better be prepared for that when game 3 rolls around.  Because the Thunder will play this same style, but they’ll have an amazing crowd pushing them to play even harder.

*The Lakers bench players (well, most of them) were solid for the second game in a row.  Shannon and Farmar shot the ball well and played under control, they just didn’t see too many minutes (only 25 combined).  I was especially impressed with Shannon as he showed a patience and maturity in his game that was lacking for long stretches during the regular season.  He didn’t force shots, was decisive with the ball, and usually made the smart and fundamental play.  For the second straight season he’s really raised his level of play when the post season arrived and that is the type of player you want on your side.  The flip side of that coin is what the Lakers have been getting from Odom in the last couple of contests.  You’ll be hard pressed to find a bigger supporter of LO than me.  But my main lefty was 2-9 tonight and didn’t seem into the game but for only a few stretches.  His other stats were serviceable (8 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals) but overall he can play better.  On the road, I have a feeling that he’ll need to.

*Speaking of not playing as well, Bynum couldn’t replicate his strong play from game one – at least not on offense.  Maybe Kobe’s shot seeking took ‘Drew out of his rhythm, but he only made 3 of his 9 FGA’s and had some turnovers when trying to operate in traffic.  I was impressed by his defense and rebounding, though.  I also liked a couple of the hard fouls that he gave.  I’ve always said that if Bynum could rebound well and defend the paint consistently his offense would be a plus and we saw some of that tonight.  But I do think we’ll need more than 6 points from ‘Drew if we’re going to have long term success.

*Kevin Durant deserves a lot of credit.  Ron Artest’s defensive game plan didn’t change at all and by what I saw he was just as committed and focussed on D tonight as he was on Sunday.  But Durant was worlds better.  KD still may not have shot in a way that he’s capable of, but he looked much more relaxed and it showed in his success rate.  32 points on 26 shots for Durant and several smooth jumpers that were made to look way easier than they actually were.  On one possession he posted up Ron on the right block from about 17 feet and then just turned and shot a fade away that was nothing but nylon as Ron was as close to him as humanly possible without fouling.  I never got to see the Iceman do his thing live (only on old tapes and replays), but KD looked just like George Gervin in how effortless he makes it look at times.

The Lakers will need to play better than they did tonight if they expect to make a deep playoff run.  That said, these are the playoffs and the Thunder are a very good team that is well put together and a worth opponent.  And in understanding that these are the playoffs, the Lakers are not fighting towards a goal of the best record in the league or to win a #1 seed.  They’re not battling 29 other teams across the association or 14 others in their conference.  The only opponent is the one in front of them and the only goal is to win four games against this one team before they lose four.  And since that is the case, I’ll take this win just like I’d take a 40 point blowout.  The Lakers are now up 2-0 and the Thunder have to win 4 of the next 5 to dethrone the champs.  Those are odds that, as a Lakers fan, I’ll happily accept.

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One of my favorite things about the playoffs are the adjustments that teams make.  The playoffs are like a drawn out chess match where coaches study the film, look at what both sides did to be successful, and then try to replicate that for their own team and put schemes into place to slow down the opposition.  Every game, every detail is looked at meticulously in order to try and gain an advantage.  This series will be no different and tonight we get to see which coaching staffs make the appropriate adjustments to give their players the edge.  As someone that loves the X’s and O’s of the game, this punch/counterpunch exchange that is drawn up by the coaches and acted out by the players is one of the best parts of the second season.

For the Thunder they need to try and find a way to continue the success that Russell Westbrook had in game one while also having some of their other players join the party.  First and foremost, that means getting Kevin Durant on track.  In the last game, KD struggled mightily when trying to shake free from Ron Artest’s smothering defense.  Over at Pro Basketball Talk, Kurt explained what the Thunder did to try and free Durant and how Artest combatted it:

To help Durant out, the Thunder ran some simple plays right out of every NBA playbook — some cross screens, some pindowns — trying to free Durant up on the strong side. Artest just blew those up and was in Durant’s grill the whole time. Two reasons for that. First, Artest has been seeing those since he entered the league. Artest is a smart player, a savvy one. If he knows it’s coming, you’re not going to succeed with it very often. You have to do better than the basics to catch him off guard.

Second, there isn’t a player strong enough on the Thunder to set a pick Artest can’t run through, especially on the screen-and-roll. Much like Durant himself, this is a young and lanky team. That serves them well in transition, not as well in a game of physical half-court sets.

The Lakers bigs also defended the picks well, they showed out on Durant enough until Artest arrived, which was not long. The Lakers were well prepared for this part of the Thunder playbook.

Brooks and his staff have to figure out ways to get Durant free. That may be better putting Durant on the weakside then using quick ball rotation to get him the ball in isolation. They can’t keep running basic sets and keep Durant on the strong side.

The Thunder will need to find a way to combat the way that the Lakers played these screen actions.  As Kurt suggests isolating Durant on the weakside and then reversing the ball to get him some touches may be a good place to start.  I also think that rather than starting Durant on the low block and then running pin down actions for him, they may want to run more actions where KD is at the extended wing and then move him across the court or towards the basket so he can catch the ball on the move more.  Artest is a demon when he can get you in his crosshairs and focus on a stationary target – something he proved again in Game 1.  Needless to say, the Thunder need to try and avoid those situations tonight if they hope to get KD going.

Conversely, the Lakers must continue to find a way to keep Durant under wraps (while also anticipating some of the Thunder’s adjustments and scheming for them), but their bigger task is figuring out a way to control Westbrook.  In game one, Russ was able to spring free in the open court and find creases in the Lakers half court D.  Russ got almost all of his baskets in the lane off pull up jupmers and hard drives to the rim.  So, the Lakers need to devise a plan to build that wall and keep Westbrook out of the paint and at a distance where he is less dangerous.

The first way they can accomplish this by being more selective on offense and not taking so many long jumpers with an unbalanced floor.  Too many times in Game 1, the Lakers took jumpers from the baseline with players in motion moving towards the basket.  When those rebounds went long, the Thunder were able to race up the court and create 3 on 2 or even 3 on 3 scenarios where Westbrook could play in space in one on one situations.  If the Lakers can limit these opportunities, it will go a long way in containing Westbrook.  This is obviously a major point of emphasis with the Lakers coaches, so we’ll see how successful they’ll be in executing their plans to hold Russ down better than in the last game.

Offensively, adjustments are also in order for the Lakers.  As we discussed in the posts proceeding game 1, the Lakers struggled with the fronting of their post players.  If the Lakers are to exploit their biggest advantage (their size inside), they need to find a way to consistently get the ball to Pau and Bynum on the block and let them work against the undersized Thunder.  My first suggestion would be to start the offense on the extended wing in the standard formation for a sideline initiation (ball handler at the hash mark, another player in the corner, post man at the low block).  At this point, if the post man is open, pass it to him.  However, if the post man is being fronted, the Lakers should pass the ball to the corner to flatten out the passing angle to the post man.  This pass to the corner not only initiates some of our offensive movement, but it should also help the  post player create a natural seal to the baseline side so that receiving the pass is much easier.  After the catch is made, the post player can go to work as normal.  My second suggestion would be to play more high low where the weakside big man flashes to the FT line in order to recieve a pass and then allow an easier angle to make a  lob pass over the top of the fronting defender.  If the Lakers can find ways to use either of these tactics, I believe they’ll have success against the Thunder’s fronting schemes.

Understand, that while Game 1 set the tone for the series, Game 2 can be the first real nail in the Thunder’s coffin.  OKC does not want to go home down 0-2 to the Lakers and facing the prospect of winning 4 of the next 5 games.  Like any other team that starts a series on the road, the Thunder had to come into these first two games thinking that all they needed was a split in LA to then have the advantage going back to their home arena.  Phoenix and Denver have already dropped games at home and lost their home court advantage.  The Lakers need to take note of those games and come out today to seize complete control in this series.  A win tonight can be the difference between a potential sweep (though I think 5 games is more likely) and a 6 or 7 game slugfest.  Focus, defense, and offensive execution will be the usual keys to produce a win.  Tonight we see if the Lakers can build on game one’s success and do what’s necessary to earn another victory.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Lakers

From Silver Screen and Roll: I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the biggest question facing the Los Angeles Lakers this postseason is whether or not they are capable of “flipping the switch”.  It matters a great deal, because over the past month or so, the Lakers have looked more like a lottery team than a champion.  If the Lakers are capable of willing themselves to dramatic improvement, through focus, effort, and execution, they remain at least a contender for the title, if not the favorite.  If their struggles were indicative of the team’s true “self”, the season will probably end sooner than we’re all comfortable with.

From the Los Angeles Times’ Lakers Blog (with Video): Lakers guard Kobe Bryant stood surrounded by a pack of reporters with cameras, tape recorders and questions. He stared back offering a subdued demeanor, quiet and clipped answers and barely let out a smile. The only time he let one out was when he was asked about D.J. Mbenga’s orange-tinted glasses after the reserve center’s recent eye surgery, before offering a simple “They’re nice” response.

From the Los Angeles Times: The emotions used to express the mood of the Lakers would be as varied as their two most recognizable faces Monday. Kobe Bryant would be the frowning icon, continuing to act unhappy around teammates and the media. “I’m just moody today, I guess,” he said between terse, monosyllabic answers to reporters’ questions. A bit later, the smiley face of the group, Coach Phil Jackson, grabbed a remote control to turn down a too-loud TV in an interview room before sitting down with the media.

From Land O’ Lakers (with video): Not Kobe Bryant, center of the Laker universe. Nor Andrew Bynum, whose return played a key role in Sunday’s victory. It wasn’t even D.J. Mbenga, whose future is so bright, he’s gotta wear shades. (Yes, technically speaking, the orange-tinted shades are more about protecting D.J.’s eye than a bright future, but if you think I’d turn down an easy Timbuk3 reference, frankly, you don’t know me. While he’s not officially cleared yet for action on Tuesday, Mbenga said he’s feeling better and seemed in good spirits. When I mentioned how he and Jack Nicholson are now the coolest guys in Staples with their indoor sunglasses, D.J. busted out a big laugh.)

From Land O’ Lakers: When you see a photo of a Lakers player dressed in his purple and gold on the court in a newspaper, magazine or on a Web site, odds are it came from the lens of the camera of one man: Andy Bernstein. Bernstein is the Lakers official team photographer and has been with the franchise for nearly three decades. He is also a senior photographer for the NBA and has chronicled everything from a regular season game between the Los Angeles Clippers and Minnesota Timberwolves in March, to all six of Michael Jordan’s championships with the Bulls. Bernstein chatted with ESPN.com/LosAngeles looking back at the pictures that have illustrated his career. 10 Questions with Andy Bernstein …

From the OC Register: The NBA isn’t all glamour and bright lights. Day in and day out for nearly six months, Lakers players and coaches go over strategies, scouting reports and watch film. Then they run the court, practicing offensive moves and defensive schemes. After all the running, they engage in several minutes of free throw shooting and full-court drills. Then in comes the media, who want to know all the minute details of how the Lakers plan to stop their opponents. Monday was no different, except for the number of reporters and TV cameramen.

From NBA Fan House: If Kobe Bryant is still standing in mid-June, his fifth trophy held in his hurting hand and his march to match Michael Jordan’s six titles still on track, this is one championship that won’t have been won on his Atlas-like back. It’s his middle finger that will have carried the weight of his world. And that, make no mistake, would be perfectly poetic.

This is a great post on the Artest-Durant battle from The Daily Thunder (with video): I think we can all agree that Ron Artest did a terrific job on Kevin Durant yesterday. KD went just 7-24 from the floor and took eight 3-pointers, hitting only one. He took almost all jumpers, and never looked comfortable. A lot of it had to do with some visible nerves early in the game, but most of it was because of Artest just being a pest. He was disruptive in every way, pushing, pulling and grabbing Durant around every corner. Here are five plays Durant was stopped and on the end, one successful trip down the floor.

-Phillip

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Some random thoughts while you wait the day and a half until Game 2 tips off…

*The other day, I mentioned that I love the playoffs.  The intesity, the focus, the stakes…everything just makes me want to sit back and watch as much basketball as possible.  But, the other reason I love the playoffs is because of the quality of writing that can be found everywhere you look.  If you’re not already, go to the sites and blogs of the other teams.  Read up on the Mavs and the Magic (for example).  Go check out the analysis that some really smart people are putting out there on the teams that they follow on a daily basis.  You’re likely to learn some things – I know I do.

*Another reason that I love the playoffs is the new faces that make their mark.  Not sure how many of you caught the Bucks/Hawks game on Saturday, but how about that Brandon Jennings?  Talk about a young player that does not retreat from the big moments on the grand stage.  For a large chunk of that game, he looked like the only Buck that was truly ready for the playoffs.  Plus he’s left handed (always a positive in my book).

*Even the obvious needs to be stated again:  welcome back Andrew Bynum.  I think we were all impressed with his return to action yesterday and the ways that he impacted the game.  He truly was a real force.  And I couldn’t agree with Roland Lazenby more – after being out for as long as he was you almost forget how big young ‘Drew is.

*Speaking of our big men, Phillip mentioned it this morning, but the Lakers need to do a better job of beating the Thunder’s fronting defense.  There are two ways that I think the Lakers can accomplish this.  First is to have the big man that’s being fronted make the effort to walk his defender up the lane more.  This will enable him to 1). create more space between himself and the weakside help defender and 2). recieve a nice bounce pass entry if the ball goes into the corner in our standard Triangle set on the strong side.  Second is for the Lakers to play more high low by reversing the ball to either the top side guard or the flashing big man from the weakside.  Once the ball is swung back to the middle of the court, the fronting big is now more easily exposed by lob passes over the top. 

*So far this playoffs, the home teams have been putting their stamp on their respective series.  In the 8 games played over the weekend 7 of the home teams won.  The one home team that lost?  Phoenix, in their match up with Portland.  I know people will be quick to point out the SSOL offense doesn’t work in the playoffs and use this loss as another way to knock down that style of play.  But really, I saw this game as another example of why interior defense and rebounding is so important.  The Suns are missing Robin Lopez (not a world beater by any means, but he’s their best defensive big) while the Blazers have an active and effective Marcus Camby patrolling their paint.  Camby (14 defensive rebounds, 3 blocks) was able to control the lane defensively and help slow down Amare while Blazers Andre Miller and Jerryd Bayless were able to attack the paint against Phoenix.  And while a lot of people wanted to call him a homer, Henry over at TrueHoop kinda called it.

*I agree with the suspension handed down to KG.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t recall doing it, you can’t elbow a guy in the face and not miss time.  Sorry, KG.  Well, actually, not really.  And not because of the jersey he wears or his team affiliation.  But because I used to be a fan.  Besides Kobe, Duncan, and Shaq, KG was probably my favorite player of this era.  Not so much now.  I’d say more, but Kelly Dwyer just said it better.

*Have you seen that strange Carmelo Anthony commercial?  What’s your take on it?  I have no clue if it was supposed to be funny or just weird, but it kind of accomplished both for me.

LAKERS

At the end of Darius’ game wrap-up, he asked the question: In the end, was this a pretty game? Of course, his short answer was an abrupt, “no,” and I generally agree with that sentiment.  Although the Lakers played with an amazing defensive game plan on Kevin Durant that slowed down the whole Thunder offense, yesterday afternoon’s game showed that the Lakers are still playing sloppy basketball and exposed some things that the Thunder will have the opportunity to take advantage of.

1. Russell Westbrook went after the Lakers in transition, and will be able to continue to do so throughout the series simply because he’s immensely faster than anyone else on the Lakers’ roster. The Lakers just don’t have an answer for Westbrook on the open floor. They’ve struggled to create walls for opposing point guards in transition all season, and I just don’t think this is a problem that the Lakers are going to suddenly fix overnight.

2. The Thunder started fronting both Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, making entry passes much tougher. This resulted in a couple of turnovers – but most importantly it forced the Lakers to go away from feeding Gasol and Bynum on a regular basis. The Lakers have shown that, if they have just a little problem making entry passes, they will move the ball around the perimeter and take jump shots (and they’re not a good shooting team) instead of trying harder to get the ball to the post. It’s clear that the Lakers’ biggest advantage lies in their two 7-footers, the Thunder understand that they can off set this advantage by making the Lakers take jump shots.

3. The Lakers bench actually wasn’t terrible yesterday. They came in and didn’t lose leads while the starters took a break, but they did turn the ball over five times as a unit. I don’t expect the Lakers’ reserves to outscore the Thunder reserves every game, and if they can’t outscore the Thunder reserves AND still account for nearly 42 percent of the Lakers’ turnovers, that could spell trouble for the Lakers as a unit.

There were some positives that we can take from this game, too. Again, like Darius said, Ron Artest did a fantastic job in defending Kevin Durant, who couldn’t have been pleased with his inaugural playoff game. I wrote this in a Game 1 recap for Talkhoops.net:

There were points in last nights game where it felt like Durant wasn’t even on the floor. Although this series is far from over, this will be a great learning opportunity for Durant as he’s on the floor with Kobe, someone who always leaves his stamp on the game. Even though Kobe only shot 31 percent from the field, there was never a point during the game where his presence wasn’t felt. He was active defensively, finishing with two blocks and two steals, and was making the extra pass. The extra pass didn’t always lead to an assist for Bryant, but it kept the defense honest. Durant is going to have to learn to do these things for the Thunder to be more successful during this post season.

Also, Andrew Bynum returned to play with a big 13 and 12 double-double while Pau Gasol finished with a solid 19 and 13 double-double of his own. As I mentioned earlier, the Lakers bench DID outscore the Thunder bench, mainly because of Lamar Odom’s presence, but a reserves-victory is hard to come by, so I’ll take it. What’s most important is the fact that the Lakers won the game. Teams who win Game 1 in a seven game series end up winning the series 79 percent of the time – and PJ is undefeated in playoff series after winning the first one. Before I get into the links, relive that monster block Kobe had on Durant in the third quarter. Classic moment.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b99JmNvJZSc&feature=youtu.be&a

THE BLOGS

My post over at Talkhoops: Andrew Bynum’s health is clearly going to play a huge role in not only this series, but for the Lakers hopes at repeating as NBA Champions. After missing the Lakers’ final 13 regular season games, Bynum made his return to the court in the Lakers first playoff game of 2010 and dropped a 13 and 12 double-double with four blocks in an eight-point Lakers win. The Lakers jumped all over the Thunder early in this game, taking advantage of the tense youngsters getting their first taste of playoff experience. Oklahoma City’s first four possessions read: Kevin Durant missed three; Nenad Krstic missed 20-footer; Durant missed layup; shot clock violation. On the other end Lakers gave the Thunder a heavy dose of looks in the paint, getting Gasol and Bynum going early, and not scoring outside of 15 feet until just over three minutes left in the first quarter, ultimately leading to a 27 to 13 lead for the Lakers after one.

From Silver Screen and Roll: We suspected this wouldn’t be pretty. The Los Angeles Lakers and the Oklahoma City Thunder have some transcendently talented offensive stars, but the season-long identity of both teams has been grounded in their defensive play. To their own selves the Lakers and Thunder were true on Sunday afternoon, as they kicked off their first-round playoff series with a clutchy, clangy Game One. The Lakers prevailed, 87 to 79, a final score that warms the hearts of anyone nostalgic for the Knicks-Heat playoff series of the late ‘90s. Jeff Van Gundy no doubt felt right at home.

From Hardwood Paroxysm: This was one of the most frustrating games I’ve ever watched and I’m not even a fan of either team. So I can only imagine what it was like for Lakers and Thunder fans. For a while, it looked like the Lakers were going to do what we all expected them to do. They were punishing the Thunder inside. They were trying to teach them a lesson. The lesson was “we’re happy for you that such a young team was able to make huge improvements, win 50 games, get Matt Moore cake and be one of the most surprising defensive teams in the league but we’d like to show you that none of that means anything unless you’ve got size and power and we’re going to show you that we have size and power.”

From The Daily Thunder: After one quarter, Oklahoma City trailed the defending champions 27-13. The Thunder were 5-19 from the floor, scored a season-low 13 points and just looked completely lost. They were rattled. They were visibly shaken and nervous. The game had a look and feel of a pending blowout. And I don’t blame them. They played like a bunch of 21-year-olds playing in their first playoff game ever. In Staples Center against the Los Angeles Lakers, no less. Heck, I was shaky and all I was doing was watching on a TV 1,300 miles away. I can’t imagine how I would’ve felt if I had to walk onto a court and try and get all that anxiety out while playing excellent basketball. So after 12 minutes, Oklahoma City looked overmatched. They looked a little scared. And I feared the worst for this Game 1.

From Welcome To Loud City: I can’t say I’m surprised. Nobody can say they were surprised. Not even the most die-hard Thunder fan really expected us to win and would be devastated by this loss. And obviously, the local media is going to do all it can to iterate that this was a good loss, a learning experience, a blah this and a blah that. In truth, though, it was just a loss. It was bad. We could have won, and we should have won. But, admittedly, the reason we did lose was because we were young.

From Land O’ Lakers: Was there a switch to flip? A magic button? An enchanted lever? No, but the Lakers turned in a quality effort to take Game 1 against the Thunder… There will be fans, I’m sure, lamenting a lack of style points. But Kobe Bryant, even while acknowledging the need to continue improving, made the bottom line pretty clear. “At this stage,” he said, “you’ve just got to win games. It doesn’t matter how you win them.” Who are we to argue with Kobe Bryant?

THE PAPERS

From the Los Angeles Times: Round 1 to the Wacko. “I couldn’t tell you what kind of job I did,” said Ron Artest, looking completely confused after complete domination. Round 1 to the Ron-O-Lantern. “I’m not going to fool myself into thinking I did anything special,” said the carrot-topped Artest after handing the Lakers their opening playoff victory on a silver platter of elbows and effort. Round 1 to the Anti-Ariza.

From the Los Angeles Times: Turns out it had nothing to do with the Lakers hitting the switch as much as getting Andrew Bynum back on the floor. We’ll get to Bynum’s talking about what he’s learned from reading the “Life of Pi,” his efforts to teach himself Spanish and Sunday’s cheap shot, but first — have you noticed how different the Lakers look with the big kid in the middle?

From the OC Register: This was the sort of controlled dominance expected but so rarely displayed by the Lakers this season. In their playoff opener as defending NBA champions, the Lakers never trailed and never had the mental letdown so frequent in their 25-loss regular season. They defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder, 87-79, on Sunday at Staples Center, getting a big bounce-back effort from center Andrew Bynum in his first game in a month.

From the OC Register: The most black-and-white player in the NBA suggested he’d bring more color before the Lakers are done with these playoffs. Multiple colors, in fact. That’s what Ron Artest hinted at Sunday after covering the league’s top scorer with everything but that dye he used to turn his hair a lovely shade of Corn Flake. And why, exactly, does Artest occasionally decide to go with the flowery ’fro? “I like,” he explained, “when people talk bad about me.”

From NewsOK: Kevin Durant said it felt the same. Said this playoff stage seemed like just another game. But who believes him? Who believes that a 21-year-old who over five months has gone from star to supernova didn’t feel the weight of the NBA world on his spindly shoulders as he walked into the Staples Center on Sunday? For the Thunder to scare the world’s most famous basketball team, to avoid turning into a caviar appetizer for the Lakers’ celebrity crowd, to take this series back to Oklahoma City with a sliver of hope for an historic upset, Durant has to play well.

From NewsOK: Scott Brooks couldn’t be happier with his team’s effort against the daunting defending champions on Sunday afternoon inside Staples Center. If only the Oklahoma City Thunder’s coach could have gotten his players to execute. Brooks saw Game 1 of the Thunder’s first-round series against Los Angeles go to the Lakers after the Thunder struggled mightily to muster anything of substance on the offensive end.

ESPN AND NBA

From ESPN Los Angeles: Kevin Durant was showered, dressed and ready to get out of Staples Center and put his first career playoff game behind him as quickly as possible. He didn’t play poorly, but he didn’t exactly take over the game — or the series — like he has so often and so prolifically this season. Twenty-four shots to get 24 points. Four turnovers, 1-for-8 from behind the 3-point line and the sight of Ron Artest’s bleach-blonde hair still lingering in his head.

From ESPN.com: If Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol hugged like they did Sunday at any point in the last month, Bynum would have a pile of ruined dress shirts lying on the floor at the back of his closet, as his strained left Achilles tendon kept him out of uniform and in street clothes since March 19. The two 7-footers, who play so much bigger than their combined 14 feet when they’re on the court together, held their sweaty embrace, celebrating the Lakers’ 87-79 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder that served as a welcome-back party for Bynum. It just so happens that the team’s oft-missing championship swagger decided to crash the party as well.

From NBA.com: On a play away from the ball in the first quarter, Andrew Bynum may have very well set the tone not only for himself, but for the rest of the series. After getting tripped up on a previous defensive play by Oklahoma City’s Jeff Green, Bynum bounced up and barreled into Green’s chest. No whistle. No harm. But it was a play Bynum felt he needed to make.”I wasn’t going to just let that happen without retaliating,” said Bynum following the Lakers wire-to-wire, 87-79 victory against the Thunder in Game 1 of the first-round Western Conference playoffs.”That’s just part of being aggressive and letting people know and having a presence out there.”