The Los Angeles Lakers will play in what is ostensibly a regular-season basketball game between two NBA teams but is in reality anything but. When L.A. heads to Oklahoma City, what the team is really doing is getting second chance at showing 2018 free agent Paul George that his hometown basketball team is better than they showed when the two teams first met.
There was a ton of fanfare surrounding the Thunder’s first of two visits to Staples Center this season, but all it led to was a Lakers bloodbath at George and his teammates’ hands, with L.A. showing little of the potential it was supposed to use to entice George back home in the first place.
The Lakers were without Lonzo Ball in that game, and they are once again as this time he sits with a sprained left knee. The team does see the return of Brandon Ingram, who also sat in a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.
While Ingram was cleared to play, the Lakers might be in trouble anyway, because the Thunder are finally rolling after a rough start to the year. Oklahoma City currently has the 12th-best offensive rating in the NBA but boasts the fourth-best mark in the league over the last 15 games, shredding their opponents to score 111.1 points per 100 possessions.
The Thunder are no slouches on defense either, where they only allow 102.6 points per 100 possessions, the third-best defensive efficiency in the NBA. The latter is particularly bad news for the Lakers, who don’t need help to avoid scoring, especially sans Ball.
The Lakers already have the second-worst offensive rating in the NBA (101.1), but without two of their most important players, their listless-looking roster’s defense cratered, allowing Memphis to post an offensive rating of 113.7, which is better than the league-best Golden State Warriors (113.6).
Without Ball, the rest of the Lakers’ young players will need to be better than that if they want to get a win on the road in Oklahoma City, where the Thunder are 15-7 on the season. Kyle Kuzma will have to regain his scoring touch, Julius Randle will have to find the same fire he displayed in his own Dallas homecoming.
If the Lakers can get those things and ratchet their defense up to its prior levels, they’ll have a chance if OKC has an off-shooting night. If they can’t, then not only won’t they get a win, but their dreams of George will seem further from reality than ever.
Los Angeles Lakers (15-28) Vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (24-20)
2:30 P.M. PST, January 15, 2018
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: Spectrum Sportsnet, ESPN
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Tyler Ennis
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: Julius Randle
C: Brook Lopez
Key Reserves: Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, Alex Caruso
Projected Thunder Starting Lineup:
PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: Terrance Ferguson
SF: Paul George
PF: Carmelo Anthony
C: Steven Adams
Key Reserves: Josh Huestis, Jerami Grant, Raymond Felton, Alex Abrines, Patrick Patterson
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