The Los Angeles Lakers are hoping to hold a positive record next to their name for the first time this season after they face the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday, in Russell Westbrook’s return to town.
Westbrook is coming off the best game he has played in a Lakers jersey. Carried by the loud cheers from L.A. fans away from home, the 32-year-old guard scored season-high 33 points, adding 10 rebounds and eight assists in the overtime 125-121 win against the San Antonio Spurs. He also showed an improved execution and better ball protection that led to just three turnovers in 40 minutes on the floor.
Westbrook’s superb performance coincided with LeBron James’ absence on Tuesday and with the four-time NBA champion missing Wednesday’s game as well, L.A. will want the playmaker to lead the way again.
The fact that Westbrook expects a warm reception in Oklahoma City, where he played between 2008-2019 and won the 2017 NBA MVP, could indicate another monster night from the nine-time All-Star could be in the cards.
While the Lakers are without James, they do have Anthony Davis in the lineup, which is a good sign after he suffered a knee injury in the win over the Spurs. He was a game-time decision but determined he is able to go after testing out the knee pregame.
Malik Monk is remaining in the starting line-up after he emerged as the third Lakers hero besides Westbrook and Davis on Tuesday. Monk fired the crucial dagger three from 31 feet out to regain the lead for L.A. and, eventually, take the game to overtime. The 23-year-old guard ended the night with 17 points, shooting 4-for-10 from downtown — and showing Vogel he can provide value off the bench as well as among the starters.
The Thunder clash could serve as a great opportunity for L.A. to work out the necessary fixes for the still underperforming aspects of their game. Oklahoma City scores almost the fewest points in the league early in the 2021-22 season and owns one of the lowest field goal percentages. Facing less pressure on their own end of the floor, the Lakers can potentially experiment with different defensive schemes, improving communication that floundered between their players in the previous three games.
The game could also be a test for the often-sloppy Lakers’ offense as the Thunder excel at snatching the ball away from the hands of their opponents. Challenged by Oklahoma City, Westbrook could prove his steadier ballhandling and better decision-making against San Antonio wasn’t just a one-off occurrence but a real sign of progress head coach Frank Vogel is hoping for.
Expect L.A. to launch a barrage of 3s against the Thunder, whose perimeter defense appeared vulnerable over the first week of the current campaign. On the contrary, the Lakers boasted the best 3-point accuracy (43.4%) in the league through the first three games of the season.
Inevitably, the spotlight will be on Westbrook this Wednesday night. He spent the best years of his career in Oklahoma City. And, he has just shown that L.A. could in fact be a good fit for the oft-criticized guard.
If he was to prove doubters wrong again, there doesn’t seem to be a better place than the Thunder’s Paycom Center to do so.
Lakers (2-2) vs. Thunder (0-4)
5:00 p.m. PT, Oct. 27, 2021
Paycom Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: Malik Monk
SF: Kent Bazemore
PF: Anthony Davis
C: DeAndre Jordan
Key Reserves: Carmelo Anthony, Avery Bradley, Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo, Austin Reaves
Projected Thunder Starting Lineup:
PG: Josh Giddey
SG: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
SF: Lu Dort
PF: Jeremiah Robinson-Earl
C: Derrick Favors
Key Reserves: Darius Bazley, Aleksej Pokusevski, Kenrich Williams, Theo Maledon
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