Lakers to Face Thunder in the First Round - NBC Southern California

Lakers to Face Thunder in the First Round

The veteran Lakers have an advantage over the inexperienced Thunder.

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    Lakers to Face Thunder in the First Round
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    LOS ANGELES - FEBRUARY 10: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers controls the ball against Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder on February 10, 2009 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

    Now the Lakers know what they are up against.

    And they know it will not be easy. In the first round of the NBA playoffs, the Lakers will face a very young and athletic team, a combination that has given them problems in the past. They will face a team with the NBA's up and coming young superstar, a guy with the potential to match Kobe Bryant for late-game heroics. They face a team that blew out the Lakers last time they played.

    The Lakers will face the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the playoffs. While the date and time will not be officially set until Thursday, this series will almost certainly start Sunday afternoon at Staples Center.

    Until that series begins, key Lakers will be getting rest.

    After an unimpressive performance Sunday, it was announced Kobe Bryant would take the final two games of the Lakers season off, Tuesday against Sacramento and Wednesday against the Clippers. Kobe's assortment of injuries -- from the fractured index finger on his shooting hand to the tendonitis in his right knee -- will get a little more rest.

    Andrew Bynum ran for 20 minutes Monday on the anti-gravity treadmill -- a fancy and expensive machine that allows a player to run without his full weight landing on his legs -- and said he felt no pain. He is expected to go through a light practice on Wednesday. He said he is resting until the playoffs start, but will be ready to go Sunday.

    They may need him; Oklahoma City is good. In a couple years they may be very good. But right now, they may also be the easiest first-round opponent for the Lakers in a very deep West.

    Kevin Durant leads the Thunder. In just his third season, he is starting to get mentioned in the LeBron James and Kobe Bryant stratosphere. He's not there quite yet -- he has to prove himself in the playoffs -- but he is getting close. This season, he is going to lead the league in scoring with 30.1 points per game, while shooting 47 percent (a higher percentage than Kobe has ever shot in a year) and grabbing nearly 8 rebounds. He's the real deal.

    And he's surrounded by good young players like former UCLA star Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green, James Harden and others.

    The Lakers advantage is that the Thunder play like a young team. In tight games, when the pace slows down and the defenses get tighter, the Thunder offense gets stagnant and hits dry spells. It's what cost them a win in Portland Monday night and forced them into the eight seed.

    The Lakers are a veteran team used to the playoffs. Used to the rigors, used to the pressure, used to the defenses. They know how to step their game up for the playoffs. If they do -- if they are rested and back close to form -- this is a series the Lakers should win.

    But it won't be easy.

    Kurt Helin lives in Los Angeles and is the Blogger-in-Chief at NBC's NBA blog Pro Basketball Talk (which you can also follow in twitter).