Shoals and Ziller preview each NBA playoff series.
Did the Lakers avoid disaster by drawing Oklahoma City's youth corps instead of a veteran unit? The mind says yes, but the heart watches Kevin Durant go bonkers, Russell Westbrook get religion and Serge Ibaka get nasty and wants to believe. It's like Galileo versus the Church all over again.
What dost thee Deities of Basketball decree?
The Lakers either loafed through the final month of the season -- Pistons '06, what up? -- or Kobe Bryant is finally succumbing to years of playing basketball on a finger that desperately needs surgical intervention. The former is sacrilege, even (especially?) for defending champs; the latter is what saints are made of. Judgment call on high.
There could be questions whether Oklahoma City was put together as the modern Pantheon of Hoops would like, through incredible self-immolation (let us never forget Kevin Durant's bizarre rookie season) and stone-by-stone construction. Do the deities prefer Burn and Rebuild to Tweak and Retool? Perhaps a quick exit for Kevin and the Durantulas would indicate an answer in the negative.
Everything revolves around 2010 free agency. How will this series affect the summer most?
How ill is Sam Presti? He's been playing 2010 games since 2008, when he signed Nenad Krstic to a three-year deal knowing the Nets, who had the opportunity to match the contract, wouldn't do so because of 2010. Nenad ended up starting 76 games for a 50-win team at least than $6 million. Presti's had his eye on 2010 ever since. It will be the last offseason in which the Thunder can spend big before the pending extension of Kevin Durant kicks in.
But what's this series got to do with it? Nothing but D.J. Mbenga looking like a dope Krstic replacement, that's all.
We snuck into baseball's underground lair to pilfer one of its most lovely tools of prognostication -- the log5 method, invented by Bill James himself.
While log5 is in fact generally pessimistic about the Lakers, it finds the Thunder an inferior opponent. A sweep doesn't seem to be in the cards -- Oklahoma City is projected to be nearly as likely to win in five (which would take at least two road wins) as the Lakers would be to sweep. We have a 30% probability of this going to seven, and a 60% probability is goes to at least six.
Yes, hipsters have infiltrated NBA fandom, as "instant-expert fans overrate certain players."
Mbenga has become a joke for the NBA's big network announcers, no doubt due to his friendship with hair-do buddy Ron Artest and the fact his name sounds like a Bostonian ordering sausage in Gloucestershire. But D.J. spent time as a political prisoner in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a youth before by negotiated to freedom by his father (who was eventually executed). And we can't forget his noble attempt to help Avery Johnson's wife in the 2006 playoffs -- she was being hassled by fans, and Mbenga, a Maverick at the time, joined Mark Cuban in a rescue attempt, which ultimately cost him a six-game suspension.
In a way, Mbenga is the parable of Artest himself writ large: That which is on the surface means nothing.
If Russell Westbrook came off the bench with Serge Ibaka, and if James Harden started alongside Thabo Sefolosha, and if Kevin Durant played 48 minutes a game, the Thunder would be Mogwai's "Like Herod" on repeat.
He who has the biggest gun needs the most ammunition.