A five-game road trip for the Los Angeles Lakers comes to an end on Sunday as they match up with the Oklahoma City Thunder for a third time this season. It’s also the first of two games between the teams this week.
Oklahoma City has won each of the previous meetings by an average of 30.5 points. The Lakers are fresh off snapping a two-game losing streak and with a win will finish above .500 on the road trip.
Their 30-23 record currently has the Thunder as the fifth seed in the Western Conference, with a negative swing in momentum recently. After winning seven consecutive games, the Thunder have dropped their last three, including to the Denver Nuggets on a buzzer-beater.
Oklahoma City will look to get back on track with Russell Westbrook leading the charge. He faces a Lakers backcourt that again will not have Lonzo Ball, as he continues to recover from a sprained MCL.
Westbrook remains the team’s leader and offensive orchestrator, especially deadly in the pick-and-roll alongside center Steven Adams. Many can point to how Westbrook may have an easier path to the paint this season, with the Thunder adding shooters in Carmelo Anthony and Paul George that demand constant attention.
At the same time, the offense does tend to get stagnant with players that thrive in isolation. Thunder head coach Billy Donovan has his team playing at the right level, especially when taking a look at efficiency ratings.
The Thunder are 10th in the NBA in offensive rating, while surprisingly entering as the fifth-best team in defensive rating.
Defense has also been key for the Lakers, who are winners in nine of their last 13. But that may be tested as in addition to Ball, there’s a chance L.A. won’t have Brandon Ingram.
While he was the de facto point guard and turned in a spectacular effort against the Brooklyn Nets, Ingram was treated for right groin tightness after the win. He is available and starting Sunday.
Ingram remains the Lakers’ primary offensive option, but his balance between scoring and playmaking is improving with every game.
A key matchup will come at the power forward position, especially with the Thunder having such a small lineup. Anthony usually fits into that slot, which gives Julius Randle another opportunity to dominate on the block.
As always, any contest against the Thunder provides an interesting look at George and the Lakers franchise. With the Los Angeles front office keyed in on the 2018 free agency class, it gives an opportunity to impress George and for him to get a first-hand experience into his potential future teammates.
Three Keys To the Game
Compete Against Thunder Guards:
The Thunder’s best defender, Andre Roberson, is now out for the season. If Lakers guards can get going early, they can place pressure on Terrence Ferguson and Westbrook to expend energy early on defense.
With them keying in on defense, early foul trouble for the Thunder and confidence towards the Los Angeles backcourt will help keep the game competitive.
In order for the Lakers to remain competitive in the finale of their road trip, they have to come out ready to play from the get-go. With the encouragement from their home fans, expect the Thunder to come out firing, wanting to create a sizable lead in the first quarter.
While remaining disciplined with their passing, the Lakers can’t get deterred and must fight through a game of runs.
Solid Defense Rotations:
With so many options on offense, the Thunder have the luxury of players knocking down tough shots. While Westbrook thrives in pick-and-rolls, the Lakers need to continually make all the necessary rotations to c cover the entire court.
This means that all five players need to make an effort, or else the Thunder will have open shots on the weak side from the help in the paint.
Los Angeles Lakers (20-31) Vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (35-23):
11:00 A.M. PST, February 4, 2018
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Josh Hart
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: Julius Randle
C: Brook Lopez
Key Reserves: Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., Kyle Kuzma
Projected Thunder Starting Lineup:
PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: Terrance Ferguson
SF: Paul George
PF: Carmelo Anthony
C: Steven Adams
Key Reserves: Patrick Patterson, Jerami Grant, Alex Abrines, Raymond Felton