Thunder Need To Be Wary Of No. 1



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Kevin Durant has all but handed Carmelo Anthony the scoring title this season to chase a bigger, more team-oriented goal.

Durant wants that No. 1 seed in the Western Conference playoff chase and he wants the road to The Finals to run directly through Oklahoma City this year. He could have those goals wrapped up this evening if the Thunder can handle the Sacramento Kings (8 ET, League Pass).

I understand the need for a team, particularly one led by young superstars, to achieve certain things. That top overall seed is a status symbol, an indicator that the Thunder organization is interested in being dominant in every facet of their operation.

But that top spot also comes with a few thorns this season, namely a potential first-round date with the one team that could prove to be the biggest wildcard in the playoff field.

Should L.A. hang on to their ever-so-slim lead on Utah for the No. 8 spot, they’ll get a date with OKC (provided the Thunder can topple the Kings and Bucks) in the opening round. The Thunder have no reason to fear the Los Angeles Lakers or the Utah Jazz … none at all.

That doesn’t mean they don’t have to be wary of what an unpredictable Lakers team without Kobe Bryant looks like in a playoff setting. There are things the Lakers do without Bryant (move the ball more freely, work deeper into the shot clock and play through Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol inside and then out) that no one in the league has had much time to prepare for.

A dangerous Lakers team battled a hobbled San Antonio Spurs team, the same Spurs we’ll see this weekend, and won an emotionally charged game to move one step closer to locking up that No. 8 seed.

If the Lakers can keep up the same sort of intensity for another week and a half, that first-round matchup in the playoffs will be considerably more difficult than it might have with Bryant in the mix and the rest of his teammates taking their usual backseat.

The Thunder have every reason to be confident, if they do indeed match up with the Lakers in this weekend. They still have decided advantage on the perimeter with Durant and Russell Westbrook leading the charge. And Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins are more than capable of dealing with Howard and Gasol inside.

Every step of the process that any team is supposed to take to become a championship team the Thunder have gone through it, one painstaking step at a time. Remember, it was a Bryant and Gasol-led Lakers crew that dispatched a youthful OKC crew in the 2010 playoffs that was the postseason debut of Durant, Westbrook and Co.

OKC has yet to enter the playoffs with the pressure that comes along with that No. 1 seed. In order to achieve their ultimate goal, they’d have to carry that extra weight from wire to wire in the postseason.

That hasn’t been done by a team in either conference since the Boston Celtics did it five years ago. That Celtics team, with the way it was put together, was hardened by a season-long grind that carried them through both the regular season and playoffs.

There were veterans like Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, and of course, coach Doc Rivers, around to help guide youngsters like Rajon Rondo and Perkins through that journey. Those Celtics faced their own wild card in the first round of the 2008 playoffs in the Atlanta Hawks. And they needed seven games and everything that home court advantage brings to get through that series, the first of two seven-game series (and the only ones of that postseason, mind you) that Boston had to endure.

On paper, the Celtics had nothing to worry about with the Hawks. They were the superior team in every way. The Hawks backed into the playoffs that year with a sub-.500 record, something the Lakers won’t have to do this season. Boston got past a solid LeBron James-led Cavs team in the East semifinals in the next round, too, with the help of home court. But it was another opponent waiting to test the mettle of the conference’s No. 1 seed.

And that’s why the Thunder need to study the recent history of No. 1 seeds and be mindful of the responsibility that comes along with No. 1.

60 Comments

  1. MM2250 says:

    Okc over Lakers in 5.

  2. dre says:

    Lakers will have better chance without Kobe because when you’re playing with a ball hog u don’t enjoy the game. now the whole team can play better i see a tough series 4- 3 okc i mean Howard now can get the ball and Gasol can play without fear of Kobe wanting the ball all the time

  3. [...] Sekou Smith of NBA.com: “A dangerous Lakers team battled a hobbled San Antonio Spurs team, the same Spurs we’ll see this weekend, and won an emotionally charged game to move one step closer to locking up that No. 8 seed. If the Lakers can keep up the same sort of intensity for another week and a half, that first-round matchup in the playoffs will be considerably more difficult than it might have with Bryant in the mix and the rest of his teammates taking their usual backseat. The Thunder have every reason to be confident, if they do indeed match up with the Lakers in this weekend. They still have decided advantage on the perimeter with Durant and Russell Westbrook leading the charge. And Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins are more than capable of dealing with Howard and Gasol inside.” [...]

  4. xchanism says:

    If Lakers beat Rockets, then this article is non-sense hahaha. Becoz LAL will be in the 7th seed baby, facing Spurs. LAL vs SAS, OKC vs HOU

  5. sanjay says:

    it will be thunder emerging to finals again. lakers/spurs/denver none have a chance. The first two are washed up and burnt out!! Denver cannot match rampaging shooters of OKC! It will be heat vs okc all over again! And heat is gonna beat OKC again with better offense than last year!!

    only good things is some matches in both east and west would be tough competition in semi-finals and conference finals!

  6. okcfan says:

    as much as I’d like to see westbrook and durant gain a championship shot was equal to the amount to see bryant in the playoffs and his shot, but with out him lets be honest… im more worried about utah than the lakers at this point.

  7. RocketsFan says:

    I think eastern conference finals will be Knicks vs. Heat & western conference will be Thunder vs. Spurs/Denver. I don’t dislike Lakers and I think Kobe is one of the best but in my opinion they are simply not as good as the Thunder, Spurs, or Denver in the west this year.

  8. RocketsFan says:

    If Lakers are extremely lucky, they might win 1 game against OKC to avoid a sweep. That’s the best case scenario for them in my opinion. Lakers beating Spurs is not a big deal. Golden State also beat them tonight. Spurs are facing some injuries and some of their key players are older and probably just tired.

  9. jmanee says:

    take :p

  10. jmanee says:

    LETS GO DENVER. NUGGETSNATION IS GOING TO KAE THE NOISE THIS YEAR.

  11. NinjagoXII says:

    OKC will take out LAL in 1 round. Without Kobe know-one will be able to match the skill of KD. Westbrook will smash up Nash and Perkins and Ibaka are more than capable playing Dwight and Gasol, so with no doubt OKC are going to win.
    Although they better watch out for Spurs, Clippers and Nuggets they can beat OKC.

  12. Mamba24 says:

    Lakers 4-2

  13. Gary Payton says:

    Team that is hot are the Nuggets and the Spurs will come on strong this year because it is hard to swallow early exit last year! I would also put the Rockets as a x-factor capable of doing damage! I see a lower seed playing the Heat!

  14. andy han says:

    it’ll probably be the heat or celtics to win the title, in the nba right now its heat, celtics, and then everyone else………………….

    • beasting says:

      watch some basketball before talking…celtics are done, they can barely match up with the top 7 teams in the west

  15. OKCLOVERR says:

    Look we all know the thunder will beat the lakers with or without kobe. On paper the lakers r better but we saw how that turned out. The celtics r screwed too with the knicks. I predict that the finals will be knicks thunder

  16. jill says:

    Are Lakers a better team without Kobe? NO. However now hey have the open opportunity to do TEAMWORK where the ball does NOT have to go thru a selfish yet talented player. Gasol and Dwight are the San Antonio Twin Towers and with Blake and Peace they can be quite dangerous. They have demonstrated against the Spurs and they can replicate with the Thunder. It will be more difficult for Ibaka and Perkins particularly Perkins *(his age) will be no match for Dwiight. Do not underestimate the Lakers without Kobe. Basketball is TEAMWORK. INDIVIDUALITY AND SELFISHNESS is gone. Go Lakers now is the time.

    • beasting says:

      lakers didnt prove anything against the spurs because the spurs are hobbling to the playoffs right now. plus the lakers will go farther with nash and pau/d12 running pick and rolls than kobe playing hero ball against a young okc team

  17. Ben says:

    It might be valid to be worried about OKC this playoffs, but there is no validity to thinking that the first round will be anything but a cakewalk. The idea that Bryant being injured somehow makes the Lakers stronger is strange.

  18. Lakers-2013champs says:

    You’re acting as though the Lakers are better off without Kobe. The Lakers wouldn’t even be in playoff position without him. Kobe is the most dominant AND consistent player on team. Dwight and Pau are great, but we need a player who can deliver points day in and day out. Unless the team finds some motivation to win (likeKobe does every night), i hate to say this, but they’re not going to go far.

  19. AK says:

    I think D’Antoni did not do his job as a coach thus far. Your team needs to be able to play well with your superstar on the bench or injured. Look at what Miami did when Lebron and Wade rested, they took care of business cuz coach Spolestra built a working chemistry within the team. The fact that Kobe was on the floor 100% of the time meant the team didn’t even adjust to playing with Kobe sitting on the bench, more so towards the end of the season. I do believe, with all due respect to Kobe, that the Lakers will play better team basketball with him out. Every possession of the Lakers always focused on Kobe, Kobe, Kobe. They struggled this year because they lacked chemistry, they did not play proper team basketball. There is a lot of talent on that team, and now they will be forced to spread the ball and play a proper team game. I gotta say, and I will get attacked by many for saying this, but the Lakers will put up a better fight against OKC in round 1 with Kobe out, because Howard, Gasol, Artest, and the rest will step it up, spread he ball, and execute team basketball like it was meant.

    Reply

  20. knicksrockchampslakerskb24 says:

    lakers can pull an upset on okc but it will take a lot of work
    pau needs to average at least 20 10
    dwight needs to average 25 12 they can beat okc
    laker and knicks fan
    lakers will prob lis 4-2
    and heat will not have repeat
    knicks all day

    • beasting says:

      hop off the bandwagon…might as well choose every team that makes the playoffs as your favorite team, then you have 100% chance of guessing the champion

  21. what a joke says:

    saying that okc should fear the lakers is so stupid. the only reason lakers beat spurs is because spurs played their worst game of the year missing easy shots. also, how the hell are lakers going to play howard and gasol at the same time when okc go small with KD at PF? also, transition offense for okc will blow them off the court…and theres no chance someone like steve blake or steve nash can stay in front of westbrook

  22. MJfromOKC says:

    This is ridiculous Sekou, the Lakers are not a wildcard. They are not a good team. They were a much, much better team in the summer before they had played a game and LA basically wanted the NBA to mail them a championship trophy.

    If anything the Thunder is a wildcard. Will they win by a small margin or a large margin? Will they show up guns blazing or get off to a slow start and pile up turnovers and allow the Lakers to stay in the game.

    Its completely up to the Thunder.

    When you regurgitate stats you need to remember that patterns to repeat but also get broken. One outcome does not predict another and never has. Thats just not how the world works.

  23. OctoPPus says:

    OKC fry !!! on 1st or the 2nd )))))))))))))))))

  24. Lakerfan says:

    Go Lakers! But everyone knows the Heat will repeat.

  25. sakev says:

    And the Celtics being the last #1 seed of a conference to become champion? Geez, maybe check ’08-’09 and ’09-’10 and look which team had the best record in the west… answer: Lakers & Lakers.

    Great facts..

  26. Kal says:

    I think Sekou spoke for every NBA fans thoughts here actually… all though more so before Kobe Bryant was injured, now the Thunder can probably handle it. Westbrook will light up Nash like Tony Parker typically, without Kobe there will be no answer to KD, they can play hack a Howard all night long… but… the Magic did go to the finals a few years ago with Howard as their one star. and golden oldies Gasol and Nash (who will return and is still as driven as ever) can still ball and the Lakers have some other good pieces so if anybody can make history and 1-8 upset, it’s L.A. and should be a fun match up.

  27. Scott says:

    One thing Sekou fails to mention is that if Houston or golden state lose out (which is very possible) and lakers beat Houston, Lakers can finish 7th and possibly 6th in the western conference which could mean possibly playing spurs, nuggets, grizz, or even clippers in first rd.

  28. Aditya says:

    The lakers also needs to be dominant in the playoffs or i will be extremely upset.we have to go for the title this season
    Lakers will win the title and win the rest of the games to finnish the season or i will be extremely upset. i watch others teams too. i cheer very very loudly. i watch every lakers game. i am a die hard lakers fan.
    when the lakers are loosing and are not playing well during the game i also get extremely upset. i celebrate when lakers win the title and maybe playoff series. lakers will play excellent basketball with out Kobe or i will be extremely upset. greattttt move by lakers to bring goudlock back. lakers will beat the thunder or the spurs or i will be extremely upset.

  29. siko says:

    3 teams in my opinion that the LAKERS SHOULD or HOPE TO avoid if they enter the playoffs( i hope so because im a Laker Fan):

    1. OKC
    2. LAC
    3.NUGGETS (The dark horse)

    I think the Lakers can pull an upset in the playoffs if these 3 teams can be avoided…

  30. LebronKingOfNba says:

    the truth is, every team in the west are cautious in facing lakers in the playoffs just because of the bs calls and favorable calls for the lakers. but without this calls, i’m sure okc or spurs or even the nuggets would pick the lakers to be their opponent in 1st round rather than houston or gsw.

    if ur watching nba, and not playing it safe to the feedbacks given by the laker fans, i’m sure gsw and houston plays better than the lakers. just being true here.

    it’s kinda disappointing to this writers that they always play safe when writing about the lakers because they know they’ll get bash and knowing lakers fan base, as a writer it is safe to always be on the pro-lakers side than write negative thing about lakers.

    i do respect david aldridge because he himself is being true to himself when he has blogs on this site. i hope DA would be one of the writers here in hang time blog.

    • beasting says:

      totally agree with the calls because watching the lakers vs gsw game was cringe worthy with all those terrible calls late in the game. im just glad that okc will have the lakers in the 1st round and blow them out of the water

    • dan'o says:

      Aren’t you the proverbial pot calling the kettle black!? A Lebran fan whining about the Lakers getting calls is like Charles Manson calling Ted Bundy a psycho…

  31. Thunder, the, fudge, up! says:

    I’m hoping this is just an article to appease Lakers fans. Without Kobe, the only thing the Thunder should be weary of is the (healthy) Spurs, and Lebron James. I must admit though, i am looking forward to seeing Dwights team play.

    • dan'o says:

      I agree. Though a lifelong Laker fan, we can’t run with OKC — the only team in the west I’m convinced we can’t beat. Were I rooting Thunder I’d add Nuggs to my worry list… they’re as athletic and can play killer team ball.

  32. JayB says:

    Actually the Spurs were the number seed last year in the playoffs. @COWBULL LOL

  33. Harry says:

    “And they needed seven games and everything that home court advantage brings to get through that series, which ended up being their toughest and only seven game series of the postseason.”
    Their first AND second rounds went into 7 games! Second round was the Cavs with LBJ

  34. This article is a waste and seku is bored n OKC will kick la la land fakers azzzz…
    Gaaaaaaah!

  35. Jonas says:

    Didn’t the Celtics play two 7 game series in 2008? One against the Hawks, the other against the Cavs?

    • Francis says:

      That’s what the article says, but I’m reading it 3 hours after your comment so maybe Sekou corrected it…

  36. Cowbull says:

    Your premise is ALL wrong! The Thunder were the overall number 1 seed last year. Please do some research before your next article, it would really help.

    • Cowbull says:

      My bad, their record was better than the Heat, but not the Spurs or Bulls.

      • Wow says:

        “Please do some research before your next article, it would really help.”

        Take your own advice bruh. Step off. The man gets paid for what he writes, you dont.

  37. W/E says:

    There is a possibility for OKC to lose vs Lakers in the playoffs, but i beleive that would happen only if Pau plays like an all star and D12 like the best center in league.

    • ShawnDee says:

      man you’re speaking nonsense thinking OKC losing to LA in the playoffs, without Kobe I see a sweep either 4-1 or 4-0 Perkins will have D12 on lock and Pau will do a disappearing act.

      • Random Guy says:

        Man, you’re talking nonsense if you’re not even reading to what you’re replying. He clearly said that there is a POSSIBILITY. He did not state that OKC will lose to LA for sure. Take note that if Pau plays wonderful and Dwight gets back to his monster form, they could be a formidable combination down in the paint. Perkins is a hell of a post-defender yea, but I just don’t see Perkins standing toe-to-toe with Howard or Gasol if ever Howard and Gasol does return to there all-star form.

        Ibaka is not really a stellar post defender because primarily, he’s a help defender. That’s were the majority of his block shots are. And knowing this LA team, they don’t live and die with there dribble penetration because they don’t have the player that can do so (they had, but now that Kobe’s out for the playoffs, they just don’t have anyone that can attack the rim). The only post defender they have is Perkins and I’mma tell you this, he’s gonna have his hands full whoever he choses to defend. A physical Howard or a crafty Gasol. Just pick your poison right there.

        I do admit that I’m a Laker fan. But basing on the way that OKC and LAL has played, I think OKC will have this in 5-6 games. If it does go the distance, I’d be a little bit surprised. And IF (a big IF) the Lakers do upset OKC, I’d be very surprised.

      • jared says:

        “I see a sweep either 4-1 or 4-0″ sweep means the other team wins 0 games so 4-1 isn’t a sweep. now who’s talking nonsense….

  38. GRLM says:

    Sekou, like the article, but there is a small mistake: In the 2008 playoffs, Atlanta was NOT the only team that pushed the Celtics to 7 games. A LeBron-led Cavs team also won three games before falling in game 7 at Boston.

  39. OKCKD35 says:

    What a pointless article, every playoff seed needs to be wary of who they are playing, it’s the playoffs. Perkins and Ibaka are probably the best 1-2 combo to guard Howard and Gasol ( also Randolph and Gasol) looking like another 4-1 for OKC!

    • NHbleedsGREEN says:

      What does it say about Kobe? if he was playing in the playoffs
      the fakers would get bounced easily, but NOW they have a chance
      because he is injured and out for the playoffs?

      • Wow... says:

        you just can’t stop talking about the Lakers can’t you? You should be more worried about ur celtics becasue they’re going to get killed in the first round.

      • dan'o says:

        … wiping a tear for NH’s sad, tantrum-filled existence

      • Marco29 says:

        the first of two seven-game series (and the only ones of that postseason, mind you) that Boston had to endure.
        The second one refers to the Cavs.
        Please pay attention to what you read and comment on the topic of the article, not contesting each and every fact or word.