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Scott Howard-Cooper

Bynum, Gasol
The duo of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol was too much for the Nuggets in Game 7.
Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images

Lakers survive Nuggets, but aggressive Thunder await

Posted May 13 2012 10:53AM

LOS ANGELES -- No coach will get fired today. No dozen players will get traded, waived, bought out, tarred and feathered, blindfolded and pushed into the desert or, in the worst of all fates, be shown on the Kiss Cam today. Magic Johnson will not get to chum the water today.

There is a plane ride to Oklahoma City. It is a transaction-free, panic-free, media-free day outside the bunker with plans for nothing more stressful on the agenda than deciding what to eat on the charter. They will exhale today.

The Lakers survived themselves and the Nuggets to advance with a 96-87 victory Saturday night at Staples Center in Game 7, or as it will forever be known around here, The Night The World Did Not Come To An End. They survived everything in the first round, even the former superstar point guard-turned team vice president-turned Dodgers minority owner-turned bad media speculator.

In the good news, they move on to play the Thunder in the Western Conference semifinals.

In the bad news, they move on to play the Thunder in the Western Conference semifinals.

There would be no such thing as a cushy matchup in the second round no matter the opponent, not that the Lakers would take advantage of it with ferocious play if one appeared anyway, but Oklahoma City is the last team Los Angeles should want on their nose today. With another plane ride. And with another point guard with a jet pack in the heels of his shoes. And with a short turnaround.

Especially with a short turnaround. The Lakers finally gave the Nuggets the slip Saturday night, planned a quiet Sunday of the afternoon flight and talking about the Thunder but no physical activity, and will have a shootaround late Monday in preparation of Game 1 that night. But that's it.

Oklahoma City last played May 5, the conclusion of the four-game sweep of the Mavericks. The Lakers have played four games in that time alone. Had they played them particularly well, they could at least be comforted in arriving with a good rhythm while the Thunder could be rusty from the long layoff, etc. But, well, never mind.

The Lakers will be lucky to win a game if they offer the same meek energy and focus that was underhanded to the Nuggets. They will get blitzed at point guard by aggressive Russell Westbrook worse than Ty Lawson darted through the defense the first round. They will get embarrassed to Dallas 2011 levels.

Won't the Lakers need to play a lot better against the Thunder, a reporter asked Kobe Bryant.

Bryant laughed.

"Yeah," he said. "A little."

And he laughed again.

In other words: A lot.

The calendar becomes the extra challenge, with the additional disadvantage of not being about to rest or prep for the Thunder the way the Thunder have been able to do both. They will be very familiar with Oklahoma City, of course, having played three times during the regular season, including as recently as April 22. Then again, they will also be familiar with Oklahoma City winning one of the games by 15 points (at Chesapeake Energy Arena) and another by nine points (Staples Center) before L.A won the final meeting by eight in double-overtime (Staples).

"I think we know them pretty well," Pau Gasol said after responding to scorching criticism after Game 6 to total 23 points, 17 rebounds, six assists and four blocks on Saturday. "We know their personnel, we know what they're good at. Obviously we won't have as much chance to look at a lot of tape, but we know who we're facing. We know how hard it's going to be and we know it's a quick turnaround. We have to stay ready mentally and physically for another battle."

They have a reprieve from the avalanche of speculation that would have accompanied a shocking series defeat to the Nuggets. So far. Being eliminated by the Thunder would not be an upset, but if it comes in the same degrading fashion as the Lakers got run from the 2011 playoffs, it will be a very short reprieve.

They have another chance now. They also have Oklahoma City and a quick turnaround. At least there are plans for a quiet Sunday.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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