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‘Deep Thoughts’ and Cheap Thoughts: Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Los Angeles Lakers

Dan Devine
Ball Don't Lie

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Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins protect the rim. (Getty Images)

For every postseason matchup, Ball Don't Lie's resident dummy will offer a topically appropriate entry from the best-selling series of "Deep Thoughts" books written by legendary humorist Jack Handey, plus some of his own original thoughts on the playoff series. The combination will cost you literally nothing; we suggest you use the savings to purchase one of Mr. Handey's life-changing books.

No. 2 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 3 Los Angeles Lakers

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NBA players, deep in thought. (Nene via AP, Young via Getty Images)

"It takes a big man to cry, but it takes a bigger man to laugh at that man."

After his team squeaked out a seven-game opening-round win over the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Lakers big man Andrew Bynum told reporters that L.A. can "win this championship if we commit to defense." They did a fair job on that end against the Oklahoma City Thunder during their three regular-season matchups, holding the prolific offense of the West's No. 2 seed below its season averages in offensive rating, field-goal percentage, 3-point percentage and free-throw attempts, according to NBA.com's head-to-head matchup data ... and still lost two out of the three games.

So while it's likely that the Lakers will do a better job of limiting Oklahoma City's offense than the Dallas Mavericks, against whom the Thunder averaged 107.5 points per 100 possessions in their four-game first-round sweep, that's not going to be enough. They're going to have to score more against the OKC defense than they did during the regular season, when they averaged less than one point per possession and shot less than 40 percent from the floor.

[Video: Lakers-Thunder meet in juicy Western Conference series]

Obviously, the first place the Lakers will look for offensive production will be Kobe Bryant. The All-Star shooting guard was frequently sensational against the Nuggets, averaging 29.1 points per game on 44.8 percent shooting and 35.7 percent from 3-point land, all of which outstrip his season marks. But he had some ghastly numbers when matched up against the Thunder this year; the combination of Thabo Sefolosha, James Harden and Kevin Durant harassed him into a 30.7 percent shooting mark (23 of 75) in three games.

Given the blanketing that Bryant's likely to see, the task of solving the Thunder will likely fall to Bynum and Pau Gasol … but unlike most other opponents the Lakers could face, Oklahoma City has the bigs to play L.A.'s front line straight up, keep them from laughing their way to the basket and maybe induce some waterworks of their own.

On their face, Bynum's numbers against the Thunder look fine — he averaged 16.3 points, 11 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game in their three meetings this year. But a closer look reveals that, despite the size and strength advantage that Bynum enjoys over both center Kendrick Perkins and power forward Serge Ibaka, he struggled quite a bit against the Thunder this year, posting a -31 plus-minus in more than 110 minutes against OKC this year and hitting just 20 of his 45 field-goal attempts. A lot of that had to do with how Thunder defenders were able to dictate Bynum's post position.

In Bynum's best performance against the Thunder — a 102-93 home loss in late March — he took 10 attempts at the rim, converting seven of them, compared with four from between three and nine feet away from the basket, of which he hit three. The other two times the teams played, Oklahoma City was much more successful in getting Bynum off his spots, limiting him to 12 at-the-rim attempts and just five makes in 70 combined minutes of floor time, while forcing 15 tries from the three-to-nine distance, of which he hit just four. If the Thunder's bigs can continue to do their work early and force Bynum a bit further out on his catches and attempts, they'll stand a great chance of limiting his effectiveness, which would chop one of L.A.'s legs out right from the get-go.

[Also: Derided coach Vinny Del Negro sounds off after Clippers win series]

Having a healthy Perkins would certainly help matters there — Bynum struggled against Perkins, shooting just 42 percent from the field and scoring about 5.5 fewer points per 36 minutes when the former Boston Celtics center was on the floor than when he was on the bench, according to NBA.com. Perkins is reportedly a game-time decision for Monday night after injuring his right hip in Game 4 against the Mavs.

Similarly, Gasol's numbers against the Thunder look good — the Spaniard averaged 18.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and five assists per game against Oklahoma City, shot 46.5 percent from the field, and came one assist shy of a triple-double in the Lakers' double overtime win just before the end of the regular season. But Ibaka has given Gasol fits this year with his length, athleticism and constant activity on the defensive end, holding Pau to just 12.7 points per 36 minutes and 43 percent shooting, both well below his per-minute season averages. If Perkins and Ibaka can continue to hold fast defensively in their one-on-one matchups with Bynum and Gasol, giving Thunder coach Scott Brooks more time and opportunity to figure out different ways to throw the kitchen sink at Kobe with multiple young, long-armed defenders, then it becomes hard to see the Lakers having enough ways to score enough points against the Thunder to win four games.

On the other side, even if Metta World Peace continues his established trend of making life difficult for Durant and Kobe picks up either the coming-into-his-own Harden or the attack-minded Russell Westbrook, both of whom scorched the Mavericks, it's not hard to imagine whichever one isn't being guarded by the Lakers' two best perimeter defense options getting just about whatever he wants. Oklahoma City can poke too many holes in defenses, and over the course of a series, its talent for aeration is going to leave the Lakers aired out.

In two weeks time we'll be talking about Mike Brown's job security all over again; the Thunder have too many ways to win this series, while the Lakers have too few.

PREDICTION: Thunder in 6.

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