The Thunder would rather play the Lakers over Nuggets

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Russell WestbrookTeams define themselves in the opening round of the NBA Playoffs. Through tough road losses, injuries, and everything in between, the crucible of postseason basketball readily separates both contenders and pretenders. Put the Oklahoma City Thunder on the contender list above the frontcourt-less Miami Heat and the ever-so-volatile Los Angeles Lakers.

Sweeping a struggling, championship-defending Dallas Mavericks team under the rug sent a clear message to the entire NBA that the Oklahoma City Thunder intend on storming through the Western Conference bracket to claim what is theirs, the Larry O’Brien trophy.

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The next round should be much stiffer for the Thunder and will offer either a tremendously balanced Denver Nuggets squad or an under the radar Lakers team, if such a thing can exist, that has developed an unquenchable thirst to prove themselves. The Thunder struggled to put away games against the well-rounded Nuggets this year, but always seemed to bring their A-game for the Purple and Gold.

With the regrettable circumstance of owning allegiance to the Northwest Division, the Nuggets are forced to devise a roster that can consistently equal the offense output and athleticism of the Thunder. The familiarity the Nuggets have with the Thunder aides Denver in preparing for the unique style of offense that has become commonplace in Oklahoma City. The Nuggets know how to chase three-time reigning scoring champ Kevin Durant around every feasible type of screen for forty-eight minutes and how to challenge Perkins or Ibaka in the paint on offense. On top of that, Denver Point Guard Ty Lawson can certainly keep up with Westbrook on both ends of the floor and still facilitate to his go-to scorers. Denver was designed to keep up with the Thunder, and if the two Northwest Division foes play each other in the next round, look for the series to go seven games.

Much like the Nugget’s design of tailoring their roster to more consistently beat select opponents, the Thunder were made to beat the Lakers. The Oklahoma City roster represents everything Los Angeles is not: solely defensive minded big-men, a high-scoring wing player, a point guard that shoots too much, and above all else, homogenous hyper athleticism throughout the roster. The Thunder can beat the Lakers by simply challenging Bynum and Gasol with Ibaka and Perkins, effectively bogging down the key and forcing Kobe into isolation situations. Quite simply, the Thunder only need a few things to go right to take the series, while a fragile Lakers team needs a bevy of variables and intangibles to go their way. The Thunder’s defensive game plan for the Lakers creates easy rebounds to feed Oklahoma’s invincible, lightning-fast open court system that features three scorerers who can always smell blood in the water- Westbrook, Durant, and Harden.

Head Coach Scott Brooks must certainly hope the Lakers can successfully grind out the Nuggets series, only to be neutralized by their polar opposite. He and Durant realize that the well-rounded Nuggets offer a much stiffer challenge to match his young Thunder team than old-man Kobe, that gangly Spanish guy, and the giant man baby named Andrew Bynum.

Eric Eulau is an NBA writer for The Sports Blitz Network and can be contacted at

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