Congratulations to the Blunder on making the playoffs and to Durant, the regular season scoring leader. That is fantastic for the OKC fans. I am surprised they ended up the eighth seed, as I thought they would go higher. The match-up with the Lakers is an interesting one, with a few variables that will likely determine who advances.
Lakers; 57-25 (first in Western Conference) vs. OKC Blunder; 50-32 (eighth in Western Conference.
Team matchups: The youthful Blunder should be energized for their first playoff series, and appear to be less banged up then the Lakers. In my opinion, Kobe Bryant is fast wearing out and beginning to break down from years of endless games. I think this may actually be Bryant's last chance for a title. Being in Los Angeles I am inundated with Lakers on talk radio, local news, etc, and I really believe this signals the decline of Bryant, arguable one of the top talents to ever put on the jersey. He has simply played too many games in his career - and it's the games outside of the NBA that have hurt him and prevented him from ever fully resting and recovering properly. With Bryant and Bynum banged up, I give the health edge to the youth of the Blunder.
Coaching; this isn't even close. Brooks is nice, but has not had to coach one game that mattered in his entire career - and that is not a knock against him at all. This is his first opportunity and unfortunately for him he's going up against a master in Phil Jackson with his ten rings and Zen master attitude. Jackson will own the refs and the games and give the Lakers every strategic advantage possible to win games and the series. Edge: Lakers.
Intangibles. Unfortunately for OKC, they are also going up against the establishment now, and this is still Kobe and LeBron's league. Durant has had a great season, but all the calls going his way will be going to Kobe and the Lakers. That's just the way the NBA is - they desperately need a ratings bonanza at that'll come only via a high profile and/or big market matchup. That will entail at least Kobe and/or Lebron in the finals. Preferably together. Preferably meaning preferable to the NBA's agenda, which is money, of course.
The Blunder should have a strong outside game and will transition well, but will get killed in the paint as Bynum (injured or not) will make it tough in the paint. OKC has no good answer for their inside game. They will get owned there and at the free-throw line and that'll be the major difference in the actual games, in my opinion. Add in coaching expeerience, playoff experience, the NBA's need for a big market and a Kobe to make a deep playoff run...and these all favor the Lakers.
The NBA also needs as many games as possible for the revenue, and will string this series out to six games, balancing the need for game and TV revenue with the necessity to prevent Kobe from burning out completely. They need the dream match-up of Kobe vs LeBron - it's a series that will maximize ratings and revenue for the league.
I predict the Lakers in six games, perhaps in five if the league feels the need to keep Kobe healthy. It'll be one and done for the Blunder, but what a great season they've given the fans in OKC. Now, sadly, the fans get a look at what the NBA is truly all about...hype and marketing and revenue. Durant vs. Kobe is a nice first round marketing match-up - but the bigger picture is Kobe vs Lebron.