From Dave McMenamin, ESPNLA: The Lakers can thank the Oklahoma City Thunder once again. Los Angeles’ 120-106 loss to the Thunder on Sunday has the Lakers backed against a wall. It’s about time. “Maybe it puts us in a position that we need to be in where we have to [win],” said Lamar Odom. “We haven’t been in one of those in a long time.” The Thunder put the Lakers in a similar soul-searching mode in the first round of the playoffs last April after Oklahoma City’s 21-point win in Game 4 tied the series 2-2. From that point on, when the Lakers could feel the pressure of ending their season as losers, L.A. went on to win eight straight games in the playoffs and eventually beat Boston in the Finals.
From Royce Young, Daily Thunder: Kobe Bryant has gushed about Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder in general over the past year after the terrific six-game opening round series. After this one, he may be done singing the praises. No longer are the Thunder the cute up-and-comers. They’re tough, they’re physical, they’re a bit nasty and most importantly, they’re now dangerous. The Thunder not only topped the defending champs for the first time in Staples 120-106, but they did it with a little edge. They did it with some swagger. The thing Kobe has always said about the Thunder was that there was no fear in these young guys eyes. And with a whole new look about them this time against the Lakers, there absolutely was no fear, no intimidation, no anxiousness, no nothing this time.
From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen and Roll: Honestly, I’m not even sure how to interpret these losses anymore. The Lakers’ losing streak, which hit five games tonight, began with an easy-to-foresee letdown against Denver, progressed into some classic “It’s April and the champs are bored” contests, but now has passed into a new, more disturbing phase. From where I was sitting, it sure didn’t look like the Lakers mailed this one in. Against a top-flight opponent in front of a lively home crowd in a game with real consequences for playoff seeding, they competed with an appropriate level of effort. Some of the issues that have plagued them this past week – turnovers, disastrous three-point shooting – were mostly or completely cleaned up. Yet the improvement didn’t translate into a positive result because the Oklahoma City Thunder were faster, smarter and for the first time in ages shot the ball well at Staples Center.
From Kurt Helin, Pro Basketball Talk: We know the Spurs are the tops seed. We know little else. After dropping five straight the Lakers and Mavericks are now tied for the two seed at 55-25, but the Lakers hold the tiebreaker. Oklahoma City, after beating the Lakers Sunday, is just one game back (54-26). The Lakers still own the tiebreaker over the Thunder, but the Thunder own the tiebreaker over the Mavericks. So, any of these teams can finish two-to-four. The Lakers finish Spurs then Kings; Dallas finishes Houston then Hornets; the Thunder finish Kings then Bucks. The bottom half of the West is just as messy. The issue here is most teams are doing everything they can to avoid the Lakers, and if they can swing a date with Dallas they’ll take it. Denver should be the five seed, they are two games clear of everyone, so just one more win (over Golden State or Utah) and they are locked in at the five.
From Kevin Ding, OC Register: End-game situations are more important than anything in the NBA playoffs. It’s not required that the Lakers play the same five guys to finish games, but there is a comfort level for a team to know which is your best crew for closing. Lamar Odom has usually been out there for Phil Jackson in the past, but Andrew Bynum has never been this solid in the past – especially on defense and the boards. The Lakers have made Bynum the stopper in their new defensive scheme, yet they still don’t trust him to defend down the stretch of games? Jackson’s default is undeniably still having Odom able to switch pick-and-roll plays. Asked Sunday night how he’s thinking about Bynum vs. Odom, Jackson said: “Um, I kind of like to have Lamar out there, because of the activity that he can have. He can step out and play some smaller players.”
From Mark Medina, LA Times: Before he could see any of his teammates, Kobe Bryant immediately darted into the trainer’s room. Bryant usually goes through this ritual at some point following a game, receiving extensive treatment and icing on his assorted injuries, most notably his surgically repaired right knee and arthritic right index finger. But not this soon. The Lakers’ 120-106 loss Sunday to the Oklahoma City Thunder agitated him so much he wanted to avoid any contact with teammates. Whether it’s a deliberate message or a way to temper his emotions, the Lakers didn’t exactly hear what the co-captain had to say about the team’s season-high fifth consecutive loss or even his three turnovers in the final three minutes overshadowing his 31 points on 10-of-19 shooting, a statistic he attributed to Oklahoma City’s defense. But it’s a sign nonetheless that the Lakers’ losses are more than just blips. “I didn’t want to redecorate the walls in here so I made the effort to go in the training room and keep to myself,” Bryant said 62 minutes after the game ended and then responded sarcastically to whether he was mad. “No, not at all.”
From Mike Bresnahan, LA Times: The switch was finally flipped . . . completely off. The Lakers ran into their first five-game losing streak since 2007, foundering yet again in a 120-106 loss to Oklahoma City on Sunday night at Staples Center. It’s a bad idea to play defense for only one quarter, the Lakers giving up 36-30-22-32 across the board and falling into a tie with Dallas for second place in the Western Conference. Worse for them, they’re only one game ahead of Oklahoma City and could actually slip all the way to fourth in the West. Or maybe that’s the good news for the Lakers. They actually have to prove something in their final two regular-season games.
UPDATE: One of the most respected and influential hoops blogs has decided to call it quits. Free Darko has been one of my favorite blogs for years, and I’m deeply saddened to see it go. As the cliché says, however, all good things must come to an end. Today, the last Free Darko post ever has gone up. Bethlehem Shoals asked everyone who ever contributed to the blog what the blog meant to them. It’s a moving post featuring a long list of writers I respect tremendously. I won’t past a selection from the post, but hope you take the time to read it here.