The Oklahoma City Thunder are so excited to have made the playoffs, the franchise is throwing a parade before the first game. Seriously. A parade before the first playoff game is even played.
That sums up the difference in the experience of the two teams, the two fan bases. And that experience could well be the difference in this series.
Because on the court, things aren't as different as Lakers fans would like to believe. Compare the teams on the court: Dominant superstar player? Check. Second offensive option who is a borderline All-Star? Check. Long, lanky versatile forward? Check. Guys who can come in off the bench and change the game? Check.
A lot of the attention in this series is going to be on the two superstars -- Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant -- and the top-flight defenders assigned to stop them. Or slow them, really, because nobody stops those guys. They are too good.
Durant is this year's NBA scoring champion at 30.1 per game, and is a 6'10" guy with point guard skills, who can hit the three or drive the lane. He has every shot in the book, and a couple the book didn't consider. Stopping him will be the job of Ron Artest, the physical defender and loose cannon the Lakers brought in last summer just to stop guys like this (and that LeBron guy, too). Artest will try to be physical with Durant, and if the refs allow him to be like Phil Jackson wants he can contain the young star.
Kobe is going to face Thabo Sefolosha, the only Swiss player in the NBA. But he is anything but neutral. He is long and quick and bothered Kobe so much in the team's last meeting that he held him to 11 points and Kobe actually admitted as much after the game. The Thunder are a good defensive team and Sefolosha will get help, too.
The two key matchups, however, will be elsewhere. UCLA alumni Russell Westbrook could be a thorn in the Lakers side -- the Lakers have struggled to stop quick point guards all season, and there are few quicker than Westbrook. When the Thunder blew out the Lakers last month, Westbrook was 10 of 13 shooting. In the Lakers three wins, he shot 39 percent. Fisher is going to need help -- and that's where a healthy Andrew Bynum comes in. Westbrook is great in finishing at the rim, but if Bynum can force him to shoot before that, well, Westbrook takes some of the ugliest 8-foot shots in the NBA.
The Lakers advantage is Pau Gasol, who has beasted lately -- shooting 65 percent and scoring 26 points per game in the Lakers last five (before the Clipper game Wednesday). The 7'0" Gasol will be guarded by the 6'9" Jeff Green, who is a quality player but cannot bother Gasol when he gets the ball. The Lakers all to often inexplicably go away from Gasol, if they do it here they play into the Thunder's hands.
The difference is experience. The Lakers do not tighten up under pressure; they tend to thrive in it. They have won a title because of it. The Thunder already have a reputation of short-arming shots in the last five minutes of a game. And the pressure is about to step way up -- the playoffs are another level. A level where players and teams need to learn how to win.
The Lakers have learned that lesson and they will teach the Thunder all about it.