The Los Angeles Lakers, still without LeBron James, hope to ring in the New Year right as they take on the Western Conference’s third seed, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
This game figures to be filled with transition offense, as the Lakers and Thunder rank third and fourth, respectively, in pace. However, the Lakers head into the matchup 10th defensive rating, while the Thunder are at the top of the NBA by a pretty significant margin.
“We’ve got to take care of the ball, we’ve got to get back and stop Westbrook in transition. We’ve got a lot of things to worry about,” Lakers head coach Luke Walton said at shootaround.
Brandon Ingram is coming off what might have been the best performance of his career, when he put up 21 points, 7 rebounds and 9 assists en route to a 121-114 comeback win against the Sacramento Kings.
In addition to Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Kyle Kuzma will all need to step up. Ingram will likely be tasked with defending Paul George, who is having another phenomenal season. The game is George’s first against the Lakers since spurning them in free agency.
Meanwhile, Ball will have to deal with Russell Westbrook, but should receive help from Josh Hart and Kyle Kuzma. Westbrook is averaging yet another triple-double so far this season. While much of the focus is on George, Wednesday’s game is also a homecoming for Westbrook.
“Anytime players of his talent come home, you’ve got to be on alert. Those guys love to give their best efforts in front of the town they grew up in,” Walton noted. “I think being on ESPN, him coming home, Lakers, all that goes into it. I think he’s going to come out and be energized to get after it.”
Down low, the matchup of JaVale McGee and Steven Adams will likely be the deciding factor in which way the game swings. Adams averages nearly 34 minutes a game, so Tyson Chandler will also see time against him.
Adams is having a career year scoring and rebounding the ball, so slowing him down will be vital to the Lakers success.
Beyond George, the Thunder have almost no three-point threats, so stopping the drive and the post game is a must. The Thunder are dead last in the NBA in three-point percentage, but third in points in the paint.
On offense, the Lakers will have to be careful not to make mistakes. The Thunder steal the ball more than any team, largely due to their length all around. The Lakers are currently bottom five in turnovers, so that will be something to watch for.
Even with James, this would be a tough game. But without him, the Lakers will need to maintain 48 minutes of focus to have a shot at winning. It can be done, but it will take a great performance to do it.
Los Angeles Lakers (21-16) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (23-13)
7:30 P.M. PT, Jan. 2, 2019
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: ESPN, Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Lonzo Ball
SG: Josh Hart
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: Kyle Kuzma
C: JaVale McGee
Key Reserves: Tyson Chandler, Lance Stephenson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Projected Thunder Starting Lineup:
PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: Terrance Ferguson
SF: Paul George
PF: Jerami Grant
C: Steven Adams
Key Reserves: Dennis Schroder, Nerlens Noel, Patrick Patterson