The Oklahoma City Thunder have been a thorn in the side of the Los Angeles Lakers over the past couple of seasons, but no meeting between the two teams is more important than this one on Friday. The Lakers and Thunder are two of the four teams tied for the final three spots in the Play-In Tournament and the winner of this game will also win the season series and earn the tiebreaker should these teams wind up with the same record at the end of the year.
The Lakers have won two straight games after their victory over the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday, but the Thunder have been hot recently as well, winning five of their last seven and splitting a two-game set with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, they are down one of their biggest weapons as D’Angelo Russell is missing the contest with right hip soreness. Russell has been huge for the Lakers since returning from his ankle injury, averaging 21.6 points and 7.1 assists while shooting 40.7% from 3-point range in the last seven contests.
This just means even more of the playmaking will fall on to Austin Reaves, who has proven more than capable of handling the workload. Reaves followed his career-high 35 point night with a promotion to the starting lineup and a 25-point, 11-assist outing against Phoenix. Most impressive has been his ability to get to the free throw line, garnering 53 attempts over the past four contests.
But make no mistake, the biggest advantage the Lakers have over the Thunder remains Anthony Davis. Simply put, Oklahoma City has no one capable of handling the Lakers’ star and they need to take full advantage of it. Additionally, the Thunder are terrible at cleaning the glass and allow the most second-chance points in the league so with maximum effort, the Lakers should be able to take advantage even if their outside shot isn’t falling.
But the Thunder are a scrappy group and All-Star Shai Gilgious-Alexander has given the Lakers as many issues as anyone in the league over the past two seasons. He is nearly impossible to keep out of the paint, but the Lakers have to find a way and there is no doubt Jarred Vanderbilt will be the primary defender on him for much of the night.
The Lakers must also keep an eye on Josh Giddey, who is a triple-double threat on any given night, as well as wing Jalen Williams, who has been one of the best rookies this season and is capable of getting red hot at any time.
The Lakers need some big contributions from their role players as well with Dennis Schroder, Troy Brown Jr. and Malik Beasley prime candidates. Whoever controls the paint should come away with the win and the Lakers have the player most capable of doing that. In perhaps the biggest game of the season, Davis needs to be firing on all cylinders and if that’s the case, a win should be coming the Lakers way.
Los Angeles Lakers (36-37) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (36-37)
7:30 p.m. PT, March 24, 2023
Crypto.com Arena, Los Angeles, CA
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Dennis Schroder
SG: Austin Reaves
SF: Troy Brown Jr.
PF: Jarred Vanderbilt
C: Anthony Davis
Key Reserves: Malik Beasley, Rui Hachimura, Wenyen Gabriel, Lonnie Walker IV
Projected Thunder Starting Lineup:
PG: Shai Gilgious-Alexander
SG: Josh Giddey
SF: Lu Dort
PF: Jalen Williams
C: Jaylin Williams
Key Reserves: Isaiah Joe, Lindy Waters III, Aaron Wiggins, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl
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