Are the Clouds Closer?

First off, this isn’t surprising and quite frankly is expected. Everyone knew or believed that the Thunder would take at least one game and everyone knew that Chicago would be competitive, especially after the first two games. And I wouldn’t consider either of these games a “steal” by the 8-seed, they were most certainly victories.

The Lakers at least gave some effort before halftime, building an early lead before letting the Thunder and that crowd crawl their way back into the game. Cleveland was just apathetic until down by 21. Yes, the number one overall team in the playoffs was down 21 to the team with the least amount of victories in the entire playoffs. But as discussed before, the Bulls are a much better team than their 41-41 record would indicate. And, when Rose is unstoppable (usually is) and Hinrich is setting fire to the nets (usually isn’t), the Bulls are easily competitive with any team.

Had the Bulls been healthy all season and found the rhythm and swagger that they are now locked into, they are easily better than the Heat, Bucks, and Bobcats. Now, that clearly wasn’t the case and there is a reason that they are indeed the 8-seed. The Cavs didn’t come out looking to send a message, or if that is overblown then they certainly didn’t come out looking to extinguish the Bulls’ flame before it really engulfed the game.

LeBron was LeBron (its the playoffs, what do you expect), but the Cavs weren’t the Cavs. The Bulls utilize their quickness better than the Cavaliers utilize their inside strength. So if Cleveland can’t overpower the Bulls, why not try to neutralize the speed and quickness of the center and forward spots by switching up the lineups? JJ Hickson is still waiting for his chance to shine (1 minute last night).

And Derrick Rose really steps his game up when the playoff spotlight is on him. 31 points, 7 assists, and 0 turnovers. That is production from the point guard position, plus the countless times he gave Mo Williams 2nd degree burns before dishing it out to an open teammate. He is really good in the regular season, but he becomes a superstar when his team needs him most.

Kirk Hinrich had his obligatory one postseason game where he goes nuts, and it can’t logically be expected from him again for at least another 2 games before he is able to recharge. Joakim Noah was a man possessed, as usual. Luol Deng has been rediscovered by himself this series, turning back into the scoring threat that Chicago needs. It is probably the product of opportunity, the Bulls no longer having Ben Gordon or John Salmons to be the main scoring threat, and he was hurt last year.

The Cavaliers were straight outplayed by Chicago. I would say that the Bulls wanted it more, but they really needed it more than the Cavaliers, and they each played that way. Could it be that the fate of the Cavaliers rests on the shooting of Anthony Parker? Weird, but when he doesn’t shoot well the Cavaliers struggle. And when the games start to close in during the playoffs, nothing is more valuable than a 3-point shooter who has caught fire. Same theory applies to both Jamison and Williams. Oh, and Shaq against Orlando. Maybe the most important player is everyone except LeBron, because LeBron will play the game the same way no matter who the opponent is.

The Thunder and Lakers are an entirely different entity. The Thunder are a legitimate 50-win team in the Western Conference. The Lakers only a few wins higher. The Thunder have the scoring leader and a young, athletic nucleus with a point guard that gives Derek Fisher nightmares. All signs point to a close, competitive series.

And finally, after two close games, the Thunder had a “breakthrough”. Will it last? Maybe for one more game, but the Lakers look more and more like the Lakers with each game Bynum is back in the lineup.

Still, the Thunder won this game. Durant struggled again from the field, only 8-24, but he went 12-13 from the line. Westbrook notched 27 and looked every bit the athlete the Lakers despise. Oh, and James Harden actually showed up for the first time this series, fancy that. Harden scored 18 points in 32 minutes of critical play, meanwhile his beard grabbed honorable mention for best facial hair in the game and 5 rebounds.

Kobe devolved into late regular season Kobe, struggling from the field (10-29) and not even making it to the foul line. Ron Artest continues to channel Rodman, not only with the designer hair but with a feverishness displayed on defense that earned him the reputation he carries now. Durant experiences no easy buckets, he is practically suffocated for stretches of the game when Artest is able to put his body on him.

However, poor Pau Gasol is again being underfed by the Triangle. Gasol could dominate whoever is defending him in this series, and most series. But, the Lakers continue to have issues with letting Pau actually win a game for them. Lets put it this way: Pau had 17 while taking only 12 shots; Kobe had 24 while taking 29 shots.

Still, the Lakers will win this series, just as the Cavs will win against the Bulls.

Also, the Suns are finally playing like the Suns again and the Blazers are succumbing to injuries finally. Jason Richardson played out of his mind, Nash was Nash, and Amare was Amare.

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