Final
  for this game

Thunder in forecast for World Peace, Lakers

May 14, 2012 - 2:35 PM (Sports Network) - It's Kobe vs. K.D., it's Metta World Peace against James Harden, and it's probably the most anticipated NBA playoff matchup this season as the Los Angeles Lakers get set to square off with the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference semifinals.

The NBA's two top scorers and two most notable antagonists got here in opposite fashion with Kevin Durant, Harden and the Thunder needing just four games to oust the reigning NBA champion Dallas Mavericks, while Kobe Bryant, World Peace and Lakers survived a seven-game war with the younger and deeper Denver Nuggets.

A lot of observers think you have to make a deep run in the NBA playoffs before you grab for the brass ring. A young, talented Oklahoma City team took that step in 2010-11 before losing in the Western Conference finals to Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks. The Thunder were more than competitive in that series but ultimately fell to the closing skills of the 7-foot Nowitzki.

This time around the Thunder were awarded an opportunity to exorcise some demons in a rematch with Dallas in the first round. Now mind you this was a different Mavs bunch, missing the interior defensive presence of Tyson Chandler, who fled to New York, as well as couple of Rick Carlisle's glue guys in J.J. Barea and DeShawn Stevenson.

Still it was a tough test and the Thunder were more than up to the task, sweeping the Mavericks out of the playoffs with four straight wins. After taking the first two contests in the Sooner State by just four points combined, OKC arrived in North Texas to take a 95-79 route before finally finishing things off with a huge 103-97 comeback win in Game 4.

Sixth Man of the Year Harden scored 15 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter of the clincher as the Thunder completed the first series sweep of the defending champions in the first round since the Miami Heat were dismissed in 2007.

On the other hand, it took seven games and a series of trials but the Lakers finally put away Denver on Saturday.

On the cusp of elimination, the sixth-seeded Nuggets stormed back with two straight wins and held a lead in the fourth quarter on Saturday, but the Lakers persevered, getting 23 points, 17 rebounds and six assists from Pau Gasol en route to a 96-87 victory.

"We stayed together, we continued to fight and share the ball," said Lakers coach Mike Brown. "Our two bigs (Gasol and Andrew Bynum) were terrific. (Bynum) was all over the place."

These teams are very familiar with each other, having played three times during the regular season, including as recently as April 22 when World Peace was suspended for seven games after his vicious elbow caught Harden.

Oklahoma City won the first two contests by 15 points (at Chesapeake Energy Arena) and nine (Staples Center) before the Lakers rebounded to win the final meeting in Hollywood by eight in double-overtime.

"I think we know them pretty well," Gasol said of the Thunder. "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."

World Peace is expected to really hear from the Oklahoma City crowd in Game 1 tonight since his cheap shot that concussed Harden is still fresh in most fans' minds.

"That's not my concern," the former Ron Artest said after Game 7 against Denver. "My concern is playing the game of basketball. Everything else is not really - it's not important to me."

"Hopefully, he has the same feelings that we all have. It's a bad play. It should have never happened," OKC coach Scott Brooks said. "But we're focused on playing basketball. It's not going to be between James and Ron. It's going to be about us playing good basketball as a team to beat that team."

On the injury front, Thunder starting center Kendrick Perkins, the team's top enforcer and a player Bryant has called the best interior defender in the NBA, was able to practice Sunday for the first time since straining a muscle in his right hip in the Game 4 victory against Dallas back on May 5.

Most expect Perkins to play in Game 1 but Brooks is keeping his cards close to his vest and has labeled the big man a game-time decision.

In the playoffs this rivalry dates back to 1978 when the Oklahoma City franchise was known as the Seattle SuperSonics. The Sonics beat the Lakers in 1978 and '79 when they reached the NBA Finals in both years. The franchise hasn't beaten them since, losing in 1980, '87, '89, '95 and '98 as well as 2010 as the Thunder.

Game 2 of the set is scheduled for Wednesday in OKC.