Archives For November 2011

“It’s business, not personal.”

I’ve always found that phrase to be both accurate and disingenuous at the same time. It’s usually uttered by someone in a position of power getting ready to impact another person’s life in a negative way or by someone who’s seen the affects of such a move and is using the phrase as a shield.

Right now, in the battle over BRI percentage points and the system that will govern the NBA, we’re seeing the same thing. Owners want a better business model. They want a larger piece of the revenue pie and a system – in their words – that allows them to better compete both financially and on the hardwood. Their hardline stance is based off business, it’s not personal.

Meanwhile, the players argue the same thing. They want to retain the earning ability they, as a union, have fought for and obtained over the past several decades. They want a system that allows for player movement to all teams, with few restrictions on what a player can earn with one franchise versus another. The provisions the owners seek that handicap tax paying teams by lessing the contract value and length of mid-level exception deals and disallow sign and trades by those teams limit players’ options. So, their fight rages on because it’s business, not personal.

These are the issues still at hand in these collective bargaining talks and both sides refuse to give in because from a business standpoint these things matter. However, don’t let anyone tell you it’s all that matters. Because despite the rhetoric stating otherwise, it’s personal too.

Especially from the players’ side. The players are both worker and talent in this equation. Any bargaining point that speaks to their value is not only a business move, but one that is tied directly to their worth as people who provide this specialized service. It’s cliche, but there’s nothing more personal than the time and effort the players put into improving their games (and as a result, an improvement to themselves). The counter point is that there are guys like Eddy Curry or Baron Davis (or many others) that don’t take that improvement seriously; that rest on their laurels after their signature assures them millions of dollars. But for every Baron or Curry, there’s a Kobe, Durant, Rose, Dirk, etc, etc that do take it seriously. On twitter it’s become a punch line to read “rise and grind” tweets by athletes that make claims of going to the gym to work out or improve their game(s). But just because it’s repetitive and a bore to read, doesn’t mean it’s not actually happening. Most of these guys care and want to improve; basketball is their lifeblood and with careers short and the majority of them not guaranteed a huge payday the work must be put in.

This is why fairness has become a word that’s crept into the lexicon being thrown out by the players. In the press conference following Saturday’s (again) failed bargaining session, Derek Fisher said:

We expressed as we have the entire time … if we continue to try to meet you on the economics we need a fair system. We made the moves that we needed to make to get this deal done based on the economics…they call it 51-49, but it’s really 50, with a system that is not a fair system, so that’s obviously very frustrating for us.

Fairness is a tricky concept, though. Especially when business is involved. That’s because business is about leverage. Negotiations are about what you can get the other side to agree to. What’s fair takes a backseat to what is and is not achieveable and readjusting your position based off your conclusions.

This is why the players have continued to move in these negotiations, conceding on issue after issue and handing over BRI points at nearly every meeting. They’re not doing that because they think it’s fair, they’re doing it because the owners strength and leverage in the talks demands it. If one thing is clear it’s that the players understand the path to a deal has been in moving towards the owners, not the opposite.

But when is enough, enough? When do you expect the group on the other side of the bargaining table to meet you halfway and how does that affect the tenor of the negotiation?

The answers are, we’re there and we’re seeing it now.

At this point, I can’t blame the players for holding out for the last few things that matter to them. Because even though I don’t think the concept of fairness belongs in these talks, the fact is that concept is firmly in place. The players have (seemingly) given all they can give and as the owners continue to take it’s now beyond discouraging. Understand the framework of a deal is usually put into terms of “what both sides can live with.” But, if you’re on the side that’s given nearly everything in the negotiation and the other side has simply asked for more, “living with” yourself becomes harder, no? I mean, these players have to go back and work for these teams and give their all in an effort to win in an environment that’s surely tainted by these negotiations.

It’s very much true that we’re at the time where a deal will either be made or the season is in jeaopardy. Stern’s deadline for the union to accept the offer on the table is tomorrow at the close of business and today the player reps from each team huddle in New York for a strategy session on how to proceed. And while I hope both the owners and players will meet one last time to iron out the final disputed issues, that’s no guarantee.

Just understand that whatever comes from this, whether you agree with it or not, fairness is an issue in these talks. I just hope that both sides find that middle ground where they can salvage this thing.

Today is a special day. It’s special because we thought we’d never make it this date, but here we are. Twenty years ago, Magic Johnson announced that he was HIV positive and would retire from the Lakers immediately. By the time today came, I think many of us thought our worst fears would have already come true. That we would have watched one of the very best players we’d ever seen whither away and go through a horrid decline in health. But it hasn’t happened. Instead, Magic is still here with us today. Still smiling, still contributing to the game.

And while his playing career was cut short, no one can take away the memories. I’ll never forget how watching him play made me feel; how much pure joy it brought me. So on a day that will be always be remembered for Magic walking away, I remember him how I always will: as the dominant player he was. Here’s to 20 more years.

Today, after 8 days since their last meeting, the owners and players will resume talking about how to kick fans in the stomach again divide the league’s revenues and what system the league should operate under in order to bring the NBA back. As we’ve discussed in this space before, the sides are pretty close to a deal and only need to hammer out the details on the last few, yet significant, issues.

However, in the lead up to these talks, the rhetoric and positioning has only ramped up and become more strategic. Howard Beck is reporting that Michael Jordan leads a group of 10-14 hardline owners that will not go above a 50/50 split on BRI and would actually prefer the owners get a bigger piece of the pie in any agreement. Jordan taking such a strong approach can be seen as hypocritical as he has a history of saying some things about NBA ownership that mirror today’s players position. Or, Jordan can simply be taking a turncoat position and looking out for his own interests (it’s not like that would be out of character for MJ). Either way, the significance of Jordan being trotted out as the face of this movement is interesting to me because he is the lone owner that has a true history with the players the owners now oppose. His Jumpman brand is endorsed by several of today’s top players. He competed against many of these guys both as a Bull and a Wizard and the ones that weren’t yet in the league during his career likely see MJ as an idol. They know Jordan as the ruthless winner that always comes out on top, so for the owners to position him as a key cog in how these talks proceed surely has some psychological advantages.

That said, it’s not like the players are simply going to back down without making their last big stand in these negotiations. On Friday, reports surfaced of a conference call between players and lawyers with the union decertification being the main topic of discussion. The reports further state that a group of 50 players are seriously considering pushing for decertification – a measure that would disband the union for the purposes of filing an anti-trust lawsuit that could lift the lockout. Decertification would be the “nuclear” option as it would put this entire process into the hands of the courts and away from both sides’ leaders. Up until this point in the process the union has vehemently denied that decertification would be an option they’d explore. However, as the talks have progressed and the owners seemingly negotiating in a manner where offers are made, taken away, then put back on the table under the guise of “progress” and “concessions”, this small sect of players seem to be sick of it and are willing to take this step.

So, as talks continue with both sides showing their fangs to the media and putting on a public display of strength, we fans continue to sit and wait for the word that there’s a breakthrough. But, the same questions still run through my mind. Will the owners give anything back that can allow the players to save some face in these talks? Will the players finally succumb to the owners demands by giving everything the owners want by effectively folding? Will the return of the mediator keep both sides honest in these negotiations? The answers to these questions could prove to be the difference between a deal being made over the next couple of days or us not having an NBA season at all.

Kareem’s Missing Trophy

J.M. Poulard —  November 4, 2011

At the conclusion of every NBA season, the league awards the Larry O’Brien trophy to the team that was victorious in the NBA Finals. And as the champagne gets sprayed onto players and families start to make their way onto the podium, David Stern presents the Finals MVP award to the player that played best on the winning team. Normally, this translates into the best player on the title team winning the award, but every now and then we get it wrong and award the Bill Russell trophy to the wrong player.

Consider this fictional scenario: it’s the spring 1997 and the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz are tied at two games apiece in the NBA Finals. Going into Game 5 in Utah, Michael Jordan is clearly under the weather but finds the required energy and strength to give us one of the best performances ever in what will be known around the world as simply the Flu Game.

Because Jordan exerted most of his energy in Game 5, he is unable to suit up in Game 6 for the Bulls. As a result, Chicago starts Scottie Pippen at shooting guard and Toni Kukoc at small forward. Pippen plays one of the most masterful games of his illustrious career, scoring 27 points, grabbing 14 rebounds, dishing out seven assists and getting four steals. In addition, his help defense on Karl Malone forces the Mailman to shoot 10-for-32 from the field as the Bulls win the title at home by five points.

The Bulls start celebrating, the fans are euphoric and Jerry Krause is already entertaining interviews and telling people that organizations and not players win championships.

Michael Jordan is not at the United Center, he instead remained home to rest in the event of a potential Game 7 but catches the trophy presentation on television.

David Stern presents the Larry O’Brien trophy to Jerry Reinsdorf and then makes this next statement:

“I would like to congratulate the Utah Jazz for a great Finals performance. Chicago outlasted Utah in a tough six-game series and tonight one star played shooting guard, point guard, power forward and even a little bit of center to help the Chicago Bulls clinch the title. The NBA Finals MVP goes to Scottie Pippen”.

The scenario seems ludicrous right? By the way, had this happened, I’m convinced Jordan would have played until 2003 with the Bulls just to win a few more Finals MVP trophies.

Pippen’s performance in Game 6 would have been nothing short of spectacular, but awarding him the Bill Russell trophy would have made little sense. He would have carried the team to a title for one game while Jordan would have done most of the heavy lifting during the whole regular season, playoffs and five of the six Finals games. Logic would dictate that he be awarded the trophy and most would agree.

And yet, a similar situation manifested itself in the 1980 NBA Finals and the voters got it wrong. Indeed, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was arguably the most dominant player during he 1979-80 NBA season, boasting averages of 24.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 3.4 blocks per game on 60.4 percent field goal shooting during the regular season and averages of 31.9 points, 12.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 3.9 blocks per game on 57.2 percent field goal shooting during the playoffs. There is no other way to say this: Kareem was the man.

In the 1980 NBA Finals, Abdul-Jabbar was a force to be reckoned with during the series despite badly spraining his ankle in Game 5. As bad as the injury was, the superstar center finished the game and carried the Lakers to a victory and a 3-2 series lead against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Unfortunately for Los Angeles, the six-time league MVP would be unable to play in Game 6 and would not even make the trip to Philadelphia. And with their main scoring option missing, the Lakers improvised and started Magic Johnson at center and he went on to have the game of his life (as a rookie no less): 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists. Needles to say, the young point guard did it all.

Brent Musberger of CBS said at the time:

“He has played center, forward, and guard in this game. He’ll pack the uniforms afterward.”

As a result, Magic Johnson was crowned the NBA Finals MVP.

Magic’s play was definitely worthy of the award given his performance in the deciding game, but should Abdul-Jabbar’s huge contributions during the 1980 playoffs and the Finals have been completely disregarded in favor of the rookie’s play? Highly doubtful.

Numbers do not always tell the whole story but in the case of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, they paint a picture of dominance during the 1980 championship series. The player formerly known as Lew Alcindor averaged an impressive 33.4 points, 13.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 4.6 blocks per game on 54.9 percent field goal shooting in the Finals.

To put those figures in perspective, they should be in the pantheon of great big man performances in the title round with the 1995 Finals performance of Hakeem Olajuwon as well as the 2000 Finals of Shaquille O’Neal. Have a look below:

NBA Finals
































Despite Kareem’s terrific output, he was forced to watch Magic accept his award at the conclusion of Game 6. To be fair, Johnson had a monster series in his own right, averaging 21. Points, 11.2 rebounds, 8.7 assists and 2.7 steals per game on 57.3 percent field goal shooting; but Abdul-Jabbar made everything happen for the Los Angeles Lakers on both offense and defense. He was the team’s main scoring option as well as its defensive anchor and thus made the game easier for his teammates in a way that very few in the history of the league have ever done.

Ultimately though, the one thing that mattered to both players was winning.

The rookie guard must have been ecstatic to lead his team to a Game 6 victory over the 76ers for the title, while the Lakers star center was probably proud to see his teammates win the championship despite his absence; however, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar will always have a Finals MVP trophy missing from his trophy case.

But we all know…

R.R. Magellan, also known as “Rey-Rey”, is the founder and editor of the L.A. based-NBA at-large site, The No-Look Pass. From time to time, he will take us back to Laker players of yesteryear, give his thoughts on how the player performed as a Laker, and how they are doing now. For more of Rey-Rey’s work, check out TheNoLookPass.Com.

After the 1992-93 season, I knew the Lakers were going to transition (I didn’t know that word at the time… I just thought they were going to be “bad next year”) into rebuilding (yes, a rare term in the Laker world). They had just lost a heartbreaking first round to the eventual Western Conference champs, the Phoenix Suns. I had just finished junior high when the 1993 NBA Draft came about. I didn’t watch the draft when it came on TV but I was excited when I heard that the Lakers got one of the main cogs from the then-NCAA champion North Carolina Tar Heels, George Lynch. I was also excited about the Lakers getting Nick Van Exel in the second round (my friend could not stop raving about Van Exel during his Cincinnati days) but since Lynch was the higher pick, I was excited about what he could do.

Back in the early 90s, we didn’t have as much access to scouting reports and the like as we do now in this age of information that we live in. But then, I knew nothing about basketball then… and I probably still don’t now. I waited for Lynch to have some kind of breakout game during his rookie season but he never really did. Lynch was shuffed in and out of the starting line-up for the Lakers as they stumbled through a 33-49 record (which included a 10-game losing streak at the end of the season when they were coached by one Magic Johnson). Lynch didn’t have a bad rookie season (9.6 points and 5.8 boards a game while shooting 50.8 percent from the field, which turned out to be his career high) and, for all accounts, was actually a really good season for a #12 pick. But my incompetent self didn’t know any better; I thought he would do more than this.

Then I came to accept him for what he was: George Lynch wasn’t particularly great at anything (I knew I should’ve looked at some sort of scouting report when I was 14!). I especially winced when he took a perimeter shot. But he was a decent rebounder, a very good defender, and hustled his ass off. I appreciated the hard work he did on the court. It was just too bad that his playing time started to decrease. Cedric Ceballos went to the Lakers in a trade before Lynch’s sophomore year in the NBA. Then Magic Johnson attempted to come back late into Lynch’s third year. Still, Lynch (who was shuffled in and out of the line-up in the 1994-95 season) managed to put in 6.1 points and 3.3 boards in his second season and he made big plays in the Lakers’ surprising playoff run. But those numbers lowered to 3.8 points and 2.8 rebounds in his third year as his playing time was practically cut in half from his rookie season.

It turned out that his biggest contribution to the Lakers would happen in the offseason that followed. Lynch was traded to the expansion Vancouver Grizzlies (along with Anthony Peeler) to make salary room for the Lakers. The Lakers then signed some big, hulking center. I forgot who that center was but remind me his name when you guys get the chance to. Still, I missed Lynch’s contributions despite his limitations as he did all the dirty work for the Lakers in the years he was there, especially on the defensive end.

George Lynch went on to have a decent 12-year career as a role player. His best scoring and rebounding season came as a Philadelphia 76er during the 1999-2000 campaign when he averaged 9.6 points and 7.8 boards per contest. He would be a starter in the 2001 Philly squad that made the NBA Finals, where they lost to, ironically, the Lakers. His last stop in the NBA was in New Orleans, where he played from 2002 through 2005.

As of late, he’s been working with the athletic department at UC Irvine in Irvine, CA. He has mentioned about getting into coaching. Lynch had mentioned how difficult it was to break in but I think he’ll be just fine. George Lynch did his job as an NBA player despite his limitations and I’m sure he’ll do the job, too, when he does break into the coaching ranks.

-R.R. Magellan

The Riley Prophecy

J.M. Poulard —  November 2, 2011

During the early 1950s, the Minneapolis Lakers dominated the NBA, capturing three straight titles. With George Mikan retiring and the Celtics drafting Bill Russell in 1956, the NBA saw Boston establish itself as the franchise to which every dynasty in professional sports would be compared to, by wining an unprecedented 11 championships in 13 seasons. Once Russell retired however, no team was able to win the title in consecutive years for 18 straight seasons.

Thus, the idea that a squad could repeat the feat from the previous season almost became laughable. The league had too many stars and too many great teams for one particular franchise to flex its muscles and conquer all would be challengers two years in a row.

Many felt that the 1985-86 Boston Celtics would have an opportunity to not only defend their title but also win the Larry O’Brien trophy in 1987; however with Bill Walton getting injured and an already strong Los Angeles Lakers team adding Mychal Thompson to their roster, those dreams vanished when Magic Johnson led his Lakers to the mountaintop in 1987 by defeating these same Celtics.

And then, the unthinkable happened a few days later at the championship parade when Pat Riley uttered these famous words:

“There aren’t anymore people in this world that deserve a world championship again more than the people in Inglewood here. And I’m guaranteeing everybody here, next year, we’re gonna win it again…”

Riley put the league on notice and essentially set the gauntlet for his team.

Who did this guy think he was? Did he just think the rest of the league would bow down, roll out the red carpet and escort the Lakers to the title in June 1988?

For better or worse, Riley agitated the world with his comments but he also challenged his team to be part of history. It would be up to them to oblige.

With the bulls-eye on their back, the Los Angeles Lakers started off the season with a 26-6 record, highlighted by a thriller at the Boston Garden where Magic Johnson banked in a long distance runner at the buzzer to give his team the win.

The Lakers looked to be on their way to dominating the regular season when a key injury struck in Chicago: Magic pulled his groin muscle.

Johnson would miss 10 games and the Lakers would lose six of those contests. Magic eventually recovered and came back but the team still needed to get back in sync. Nonetheless, he would help the Lakers finish with the best overall record in the league at 62-20.

Los Angeles would open up the playoffs against the San Antonio Spurs and sweep them. The second round would pit them against a scrappy Utah Jazz team that forced them to go seven games. Ultimately, the Lakers experience and the home court would prove decisive in the seventh game as they would go on to win 109-98.

In the Western Conference Finals, Los Angeles would have to face a good Dallas Mavericks team that matched up perfectly against them. Derek Harper and Rolando Blackman would prove to be a difficult backcourt to handle while Mark Aguirre was a tough physical scoring forward that gave their frontcourt fits. Dallas would put some pressure on the Lakers but ultimately they would falter against a superior opponent in seven games.

The Lakers outlasted the Mavericks and found an unfamiliar foe waiting for them in the NBA Finals in the Detroit Pistons. Most felt that the Eastern Conference champs would prove to be formidable opponents but that they would ultimately succumb to the Lakers experience and talent much like their previous opponents.

The purple and gold would get a rude awakening in Game 1 of the 1988 Finals as the Pistons would steal the home court. The Lakers would rebound to win Game 2 and then Game 3 on the road but would lose the next two games and go back home facing a 3-2 series deficit.

Game 6 proved to be quite a scare for the Lakers as Detroit dominated the hustle stats by forcing turnovers and crashing the glass. Making matters worse, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was completely ineffective throughout the game, shooting a mere 3-for-14 from the field.

Los Angeles would take a seven-point lead going into the half but Detroit would prove to be the more physical team, imposing their will on their opponent. In addition, despite badly spraining his ankle, Isiah Thomas became so hot that one expected smoke to come out of his ears during the second half as he finished the game with 43 points and eight assists (with 25 of those points coming in the third quarter).

The Lakers turned things around by becoming a little more physical defensively in the paint. They would contest shots and limit the damage done by Detroit on the offensive boards. The change allowed for Magic to get out in transition and score or feed the likes of James Worthy and Byron Scott.

Thomas’ hot shooting would help his team take a 102-99 lead with a minute left in the game, but the Lakers had something the Pistons did not: Magic. The superstar guard would finish with 22 points and 19 assists, but more importantly, he would make all the important plays down the stretch to win the game.  He got Scott a wide open jump shot to cut the deficit to one point and then ran a pick and roll with James Worthy to get the defense scattered and then the ball went to Abdul-Jabbar who managed to get fouled and converted his free throws to give the Lakers the win.

L.A. had avoided elimination and forced Game 7.

Detroit would start off the decisive game missing close range shots, a sure sign of nervousness but would eventually get into the flow of the game and once again win the hustle stats. The Lakers would toughen up once again in the second quarter and fly down the court for transition opportunities to take a 52-47 halftime lead.

The Lakers would raise the intensity in the third quarter thanks in large part to their half court trap that essentially became a zone once the Pistons crossed midcourt. Granted, zones were outlawed in the NBA at the time and thus the Lakers were not allowed to play zone; but they were able to get away with it by using a smart wrinkle: they would use their most athletic players (A.C. Green, Mychal Thompson, James Worthy, Michael Cooper and Magic Johnson or Byron Scott) to essentially trap in the corners and then rotate and recover (they would also double team Adrian Dantley at the wing or in the post). The end result was that Detroit technically had mismatches at every position, but the Los Angeles players were all tall and strong enough to hold their own against the Pistons.

The Lakers defense blocked shots, forced turnovers, rebounded the ball and got out in transition to score and take a 10-point lead by the end of the third quarter. The Pistons rallied in the fourth but would ultimately fell short as the Lakers emerged victorious thanks in large part to James Worthy’s 36 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists.

Pat Riley would prove to be prophetic as his team would repeat as champions and become the team of the 1980s.

Many more teams would go on to win back-to-back titles after the Lakers repeated in 1988. Here is the list:

  • 1988-89 and 1989-90 Detroit Pistons
  • 1990-91, 1991-92 and 1992-93 Chicago Bulls (3-peat)
  • 1993-94 and 1994-95 Houston Rockets
  • 1995-96, 1996-97 and 1997-98 Chicago Bulls (3-peat)
  • 1999-00, 2000-01 and 2001-02 Los Angeles Lakers (3-peat)
  • 2008-09 and 2009-10 Los Angeles Lakers

Winning two titles in a row may have become a little more common in the late 1980s, but let’s not forget which team restarted the trend. Riley made a bold statement and helped the franchise become one of the league’s greatest dynasties.

By the way, not that anyone is keeping score; but the last franchise to repeat? That would be the Los Angeles Lakers. Perhaps Riley knew something we didn’t…

Tonight should be opening night. It should be a time filled with anticipation and excitement. Butterflies should be in your stomach as we get ready to watch a slate of games that should have included the Lakers’ first home game against a prime Thunder team. Instead, there’s silence, emptiness, and depression. And though I truly believe an end to the lockout is in sight, I also believe stubborn blind men sit at that negotiating table grasping for everything they can get their mitts on save for the agreement in front of them. So, with sadness, I proceed as if there were a season starting anyway and offer up a game preview for a contest that won’t happen. This is what it’s come to for me.

Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest Metta World Peace, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Thunder: Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins
Injuries: Lakers: none, however Andrew Bynum is suspended; Thunder: none

The Lakers Coming in: A hunger in the eyes of the dethroned champs is balanced by an adjustment to new surroundings. Gone is the Zen Master and his calming, stoic demeanor. In his place is Mike Brown and his exuberant approach to teaching his schemes on both sides of the ball. And while those schemes will be different, the Lakers must adjust on the fly and find out what works and what doesn’t rather quickly. The personnel is mostly unchanged (the rookies and 2nd year players don’t figure to play a prominent role early and the season) and lends itself to some familiarity in the changed environment. And the hope is that the Lakers rely mostly on their experience and the drive to overcome last year’s failings. A year ago was ring night and now the journey towards having that feeling again begins.

The Thunder Coming in: Conference finalists only a few months ago, expectations are now through the roof for the Thunder. There are no more excuses of youth and inexperience to lean on; this team will now only be judged on achieving their goals of advancing further than the year before or not. The excitement of what can be is now countered by the real weight of what could happen should failure occur.

But this team is primed for a run. Kevin Durant comes off a whirlwind summer of showing new skills and refined polish in exhibition games around the country. He’s now joined in the starting line up by James Harden who also flashed growth in his game last year and over the summer in many of those same pick up games. Add in Russell Westbrook’s ascension into the elite ranks of lead guards and OKC now possess a trio of wing players that can compete with any in the league. Yes, there are division of labor issues that need to be sorted out – and quickly – with Westbrook needing to prove early in this campaign that he’s capable of being distributor and fearless attacker when possessing the ball. No small feat, to be sure, but a step he’s more than capable of taking considering his talent level.

Thunder Blogs: Royce Young runs a great site in Daily Thunder. Check it out for all the news and analysis you can handle on that team.

Keys to game: Much how NFL games are won in the trenches, this contest will be won in the paint. Perkins mans the pivot on defense and will play his typical bruising style on defense and when attacking the glass. Ibaka, fresh off his stint as the third big man for Spain’s national team, will protect the basket when coming from the weakside to disrupt and alter shots. If the Lakers can successfully attack these two and either get them into foul trouble or score with good efficiency, OKC’s defense will need to collapse and it will open up more opportunities for Kobe, Artest, Odom, and Barnes to slash into the gaps and do even more damage 15 feet and in.

Meanwhile, the Lakers too must protect their paint by containing Westbrook and Harden off the bounce and in pick and roll situations. Both love to turn the corner off screens and get to the front of the rim. The Lakers P&R D will be tested early and often by those two and discipline will be needed to corral them when they possess the ball.

This is complicated by the attention that must be paid to Kevin Durant. Every screen he comes off requires at least one (and normally two) defenders shift his way. Any clean catch could mean a lightning quick jumper is released or a quick dribble into the paint that renders defensive strategy moot. Artest World Peace, Barnes, and Kobe will have their hands full bodying him off the ball to disrupt his movement while big men must hedge and recover on off ball actions in order to close down passing angles. Durant’s improved handle also mean he’s even more a threat in isolation than in season’s past. He will try to defenders down with an array of cross-overs once not a part of his repertoire, but now a fully developed weapon. Everyone’s head must be on a swivel whenever he’s on the court and the D cannot let him compromise their sets lest they want their entire scheme to fall apart like a sweater being undone when the loose thread is pulled.

The challenge goes beyond just the half court actions, however. History tells us the Thunder will push the ball at every opportunity against this aged Laker group. So, the Lakers must transition well from offense to defense and not force the types of shots that produce running chances because of long rebounds. Gasol and Odom will be key in this as they’ll need to not only contest the glass in an effort to gain extra possessions but also bust their rear ends back in transition to help clog the lane to deny Westbrook, Harden, and Durant lanes to finish at the rim.

Where you can watch: No where. (sobs)