Denver pushed them to the brink.
The Los Angeles Lakers needed a Game 7 at home and the return of Metta World Peace to outlast the Nuggets and advance to the Western Conference semifinals.
Up next? Durant. Westbrook. Harden.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have their Big 3 – Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden - muscle and shot blocking on the inside and depth at power forward and center positions.
What they don’t have is Kobe Bryant, who in his 16th season is still the game’s best closer.
As great as Bryant is, he’ll need help to get past the Thunder.
Paging Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.
By the way, watch the elbows World Peace and watch out for them Harden.
(3) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (2) Oklahoma City Thunder
Game 1: Today, 9:30 p.m. (TNT)
How they got here: Oklahoma City def (7) Dallas, 4-0, L.A. Lakers def. (6) Denver, 4-3.
How they REALLY got here: Not only did they fail to contain Durant, Westbrook or Harden, the Mavs didn’t get the kind of balanced scoring necessary to make the Thunder have to defend their entire offense. Having Durant hit a game winner in Game 1 seemed to take the life out of the defending champions. As for the Lakers, their big men – Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol - were back and forth and Aaliyah, but came around in Game 7 to seal the series. The Nuggets gave the Lakers trouble because they can score in transition and had active big men, but not having a go-to player cost them.
Biggest concern for the Lakers: Matching up with Westbrook at Harden and their own big men. Will the Lakers be able to keep Harden and Westbrook out of the paint. If Bynum and Gasol don’t play big, it’s a wrap for the Lakers.
Biggest concern for Thunder: Close games and Bryant. The two go hand and hand. If the games are close in the last four minutes, who will the Thunder go to down the stretch and can they stop Bryant in those situations?
Series prediction: Thunder in 6. As tough as it is to go against Bryant, the Lakers need more from others to get past Oklahoma City. The thing about the Thunder is they have the bigs to match up defensively against Bynum and Gasol. Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins won’t disappear defensively. We’ve seen the Laker bigs comes and go. Even though the Thunder are still learning how to close out games, they’re getting better at it. Losing 114-106 in double overtime April 22 at Los Angeles taught the Thunder a lesson. They won’t let history repeat itself.