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Returning to the "Team of the Crime" | January
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That was perhaps a weak attempt at a clever headline. You've all heard the expression about returning to the scene of the crime. Now, I am in no ways trying to say that the Los Angeles Lakers robbed the Oklahoma City Thunder in last year's NBA playoffs. It was a hard fought series by both teams, with the Lakers just happening to come out victorious on their way to another NBA championship.

The Lakers defeated the Thunder, four games to two, in last year's first round. It was the first postseason appearance by the Thunder since bolting from Seattle, but it gave them a taste of what they want to accomplish in the future, especially against the likes of the Lakers in the playoffs. This team is headed in the right direction.

Heading into Monday night's huge matchup in the Staples Center, the Thunder are coming off of one of their biggest victories of the season. With a 125-124 home win over the Orlando Magic, the Thunder gained some much needed confidence as they prepare to play against one of the best teams in the league today. At 30-11, the Lakers have the second best record in the Western Conference. Although they are behind the San Antonio Spurs in the standings, I cannot think of too many people who do not feel as if the playoffs will still go through Los Angeles in the west. In order to be the champs, you have to beat the champs. No team has been able to do that over the last couple of seasons.

The last time these teams met was in Oklahoma City, with the Thunder suffering a 95-94 defeat in game six of the 2009-2010 NBA playoffs at the hands of the Lakers. It is an image that none of us will soon forget, with the entire team hanging their heads as the final buzzer sounded.

But it is an image that can be erased later on this season. Win or lose on Monday night, that will not change what happened last year. The only thing that can avenge that series loss cannot take place in January. It cannot take place in February or March either. But depending on when they could possibly meet again, it can only happen in either April or May.

In the playoffs. 

Not that a win Monday night would not help.

* Make sure to follow Kelley on Twitter @RobKelley24, as he was recently named one of the 1,000 Most Influential Sports Writers on Twitter in 2010.