The NBA's crazy, compact season continues, but it no longer includes the Lakers. This is sort of hard to believe given their level of talent, but here are a few thoughts about the Western Conference semifinals that ended a few hours ago with the Thunder celebrating their 4-1 series clincher.
* The lusty crowds inside (18,000) and outside (an estimated 6,000 or 7,000 according to TNT's Ernie Johnson) OKC's downtown arena were reminiscent of the gatherings around Arco Arena a decade ago. Small markets tend to generate some of the loudest noise. And, yes, beating the Lakers has something to do with it.
* In contrast to the frisky old Spurs, whose stars also are well into their 30s, the Lakers throughout this series looked old, dispirited, discombobulated, and confused. What's the system? The style of play? Why the lack of energy and what happened to the free-flowing movement? Actually, I wonder what Jerry Buss is thinking about Phil Jackson and that triangle offense he was so eager to dump ...
* Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak was a lonely figure seated alone in the stands, but afterward, he was classy as usual. He stopped in the hallway after the game and endured a painful, informal interview session.
* Revealing stats of the night: Kobe Bryant, 0 assists. Andrew Bynum, 0 assists.
* The league should (and probably will) rescind the flagrant foul assessed to Metta World Peace just before intermission. That was ridiculous, based soley and unfairly on reputation.
* OKC and San Antonio finished a combined 15-1 in the opening two rounds. This should be a phenomenal conference finals.
* It's hard to believe that, only a year ago, OKC coach Scotty Brooks benched Russell Westbrook for his poor decision making. Westbrook was OKC's MVP of this series, though Kevin Durant continues to improve, and amaze with his overall skill and particularly his late-game shotmaking and defense. If he ever develops that superstar edginess? Becomes a little less accommodating? Scary thought.
* TNT's "Inside the NBA" was must-see TV when the studio cast consisted only of Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson, but Shaquille O'Neal has been a terrific addition. Together, it works. They are insightful, hilarious, opinionated, and not afraid to offend their former peers. Mostly, they are simply too entertaining to miss, whether it's Shaq wearing his graduation outfit, Charles bragging about his weight loss, Kenny doing the robot walk behind the set, or Ernie interrupting the banter with a pithy transition ... Great stuff. Too bad they don't work the Finals.