The Los Angeles Lakers enter a very difficult stretch of their schedule beginning Thursday night as they take on the slumping, but talented Oklahoma City Thunder.
While both the Lakers and Thunder are in need of a win to regain some confidence, the Lakers are in desperate need of wins to stay alive in the West. On Wednesday, it was announced that LeBron James was cleared to return to practice, but will miss at least the next two games.
Not having James remains a tall order in and of itself, but particularly so with the Lakers due to face the Thunder, Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors in their next three games.
As of now, the Lakers sit outside of the playoffs with a 24-21 record, a half-game behind the Utah Jazz and Clippers for the eighth spot. If they cannot muster a win against any of these elite teams, they’ll drop to 24-24 and be further out of the playoff race when James returns.
This basically means that every game between now and James’ return is a must-win, starting with the Thunder. Oklahoma City is still an elite team, but they are currently experiencing major struggles defensively.
What is on a normal night the NBA’s best defense has given up 154 to the San Antonio Spurs in a double-overtime loss and 142 to the Atlanta Hawks in regulation. They are 1-4 in their last five games.
These two teams will be constructed similarly to the last time they faced off on Jan. 2, when the Thunder won 107-100 after the Lakers offense completely stalled in the second half. However, the Lakers have since made a switch to their starting lineup, benching Josh hart and JaVale McGee in favor of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Tyson Chandler.
Also, a part of that could be the loss of Kyle Kuzma to a back injury at halftime, which will be solved with him back in the lineup. But, as a whole, the Lakers must step up offensively in order to win this game.
The Lakers also struggle on the road, at 9-12 this season, and the Thunder have one of the best home-court advantages in basketball, as they stand at 14-6 in Oklahoma City.
The game will be one of the Lakers toughest without James, but if they want to remain in playoff contention, it is a must win, something that will be repeated almost every game until he returns.
Los Angeles Lakers (24-21) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (26-17)
6:30 P.M. PT, Jan. 17, 2019
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Lonzo Ball
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: Kyle Kuzma
C: Tyson Chandler
Key Reserves: Josh Hart, JaVale McGee, Lance Stephenson, Ivica Zubac
Projected Thunder Starting Lineup:
PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: Terrance Ferguson
SF: Paul George
PF: Jerami Grant
C: Steven Adams
Key Reserves: Dennis Schroder, Adbel Nader, Patrick Patterson, Hamidou Diallo