The 2018-19 NBA season is winding down for the Los Angeles Lakers with only five games remaining. The first comes against Russell Westbrook, Paul George and the Oklahoma City Thunder who are battling for playoff positioning down the stretch of the season. The Lakers, meanwhile, have a chance to take the season series.
The Lakers are coming off an impressive win against the New Orleans Pelicans without both LeBron James — who is shut down for the season — and Kyle Kuzma. It was the veterans who really stepped up for the Lakers and they will have to do so again if they plan on pulling off the upset in Oklahoma City.
Rondo has really taken over the playmaking duties, averaging over 11 assists in the last four games. Meanwhile, JaVale McGee has rediscovered his early-season form, averaging 16.6 points, 12.6 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks over the last 10 contests.
Reggie Bullock also made a strong return in the team’s last contest with 18 points while Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is averaging just under 20 points over the last 10 contests as well. With the future of all these players unknown, they all seem to be putting their best foot forward down the stretch.
If the Lakers plan on defeating the Thunder, they will need to continue to play as a team on the offensive end while locking down on defense.
Oklahoma City is one of the best defensive teams in the NBA, ranking first in the league in creating turnovers and fourth in defensive rating. Their stars, Westbrook and George set the tone while Steven Adams is one of the league’s best rim protectors.
Offensively, the Thunder have struggled recently, being held to 105 points or fewer in each of their last five games and have lost seven of their last nine overall. After George and Westbrook, their options are limited as far as creating offense, but they do have some shooters capable of getting hot such as Terrence Ferguson.
One Laker who could be a major key is Alex Caruso. The two-way player has shown a ton of growth and has been one of the most dependable Lakers off the bench. He will likely spend some time guarding Westbrook and will need to continue to create and finish as well as he has been offensively.
That ball movement will continue to be huge for the Lakers as they have posted at least 30 assists in each of their last three wins. Against a defense as good as Oklahoma City’s, that will have to continue as trying to go one-on-one will lead to a rough night.
If the Lakers are able to hold either George or Westbrook relatively in check without letting one of the role players have a career night and keep up the ball movement on offense, Los Angeles could have a shot at pulling the upset and winning the season series against the Thunder.
Los Angeles Lakers (35-42) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (44-33)
5:00 P.M. PT, Apr. 2, 2019
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK
TV: Spectrum SportsNet, TNT
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN), 1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Rajon Rondo
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Lance Stephenson
PF: Moritz Wagner
C: JaVale McGee
Key Reserves: Alex Caruso, Jonathan Williams, Scott Machado
Projected Thunder Starting Lineup:
PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: Terrance Ferguson
SF: Paul George
PF: Jerami Grant
C: Steven Adams
Key Reserves: Dennis Schrroder, Markieff Morris, Nerlens Noel