As of press time (naks.), the Oklahoma Thunder are pulverizing the LA Lakers, to the tune of 92-63, with a little over a minute to go in the 3rd. Pending an epic, thunderous letdown, or an equally epic Kobe-powered comeback, the Thunder are running away with the first game.
For the West, it boils down, as corny as this may sound, to a question of Character. The teams that will come away with the wins will be the teams that know who they are, and impress this upon their opponents.
The Oklahoma Thunder, especially this season, are coming into their own. They know who they are, what kind of pace they want to play at, the selflessness required, the roles they are expected to play, and the work that’s cut out for them. They’re like a team of track-stars and high-jumpers in perfect sync. And that’s from the starters down to the bench.
The Lakers, in contrast, are, as Phil Jackson put it before, “a team in search of its soul.” Sure, the Lakers are talent-laden, and anybody with the Black Mamba in its arsenal can not be counted out. But this is a team game, and the better team is out there running down their opponents. They have won, and will continue to win games with their talent. If they still want to win, the rest of the Purple and Gold have to proverbially step it up. Gasol and Bynum have to do much of the damage since the guards and forwards cancel each other out. If Gasol and Bynum can dominate in the paint, and exert their wills over Ibaka, Perkins and Collison, then the Lakers have a chance.
The Spurs, on the other hand, are the epitome of knowing who they are, playing to their strength, and using these efficiently. They have also found a way to pace themselves throughout the season, and thus have a healthy Manu, Tony and Duncan. Their bench is also young, dynamic, and have that extra kick the veterans need. The Clippers are, in contrast, still looking for who they are. They’ve got Paul and Griffin to lead the charge, but when San Antonio suddenly exerts its towering and imposing presence upon these young guys, it won’t be pretty for the Clips. The Spurs have gone through so many wars (lost and won) together, and they’ve got one of the best minds running the show, too – Pop.
I guess you can say I’m predicting a Spurs-Thunder Western Finals. I’m rooting for the Thunder to go all the way, but if they do fall, it will be because the Spurs have exerted their familiar imposing presence on them.
The Western team that can find itself, use it to its advantage, and exert it over their opponents can win their Conference. Emphasis on Western TEAM. Not individual.
As for the East, a big-ass asterisk still looms over them.
The fall of Rose still puts a big question mark on the Sixers win. Then it puts a big question mark on the winner of the Celtics-76ers match. And it puts a big on whoever wins the East, as everyone will forever wonder: could they still have won it if Rose played?
But shit like that happens, right? And I think it’s a toss-up between the Heat and the Celtics. Both are playing with newfound passion, desire and just downright anger. It’s going to be a fistfight.