The Los Angeles Lakers will face the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the NBA playoffs, and head coach Phil Jackson anticipates a tough series, despite their opponent's near-total lack of postseason experience.
"They're a very young, athletic team. Speed wise, they're quick. That's going to be a challenge for us to stay with them," he said Tuesday at Staples Center after the Lakers completed their morning shootaround. "They convert turnovers and get their hands on balls and run out very well in transition. They are a pretty good open floor team."
The Lakers won three of four regular season matchups, but the victories all came early in the season and in the most recent meeting, March 26 in Oklahoma City, the Lakers suffered a 16-point defeat.
Jackson said he was impressed by the growth of players like Kevin Durant, whom he called "an excellent scorer," but pointed to other players on the roster with the potential to impact the series.
"They happen to have a really exceptional defender in [Thabo] Sefolosha, who was brought there for that purpose of being a really good defensive player at that spot," Jackson said. "They also have a very young player who comes in and plays very good offense at that spot (James Harden). So they have a couple of options that work well."
Whether Oklahoma City's playoff inexperience will be a factor remains to be seen. Still, Jackson believes it will be a different undertaking than the process delivering the Thunder to the franchise's first postseason appearance since the 2004-05 season, when the team was still playing in Seattle. "The game changes. There aren't as many easy baskets. Fewer turnovers because people are really going to be playing tight to the chest," he said.
The Thunder also represent somewhat of an unknown quantity for the Lakers coaching staff, requiring an increased awareness of the need to make adjustments. "I don't know if it's easier or better or worse or whatever, but you have to make the changes," he said. "You can't get set in your mind, so you have to be flexible."
Brian Kamenetzky covers the Lakers and is author of the Land O' Lakers blog on ESPNLosAngeles.com