There are storylines aplenty heading into Wednesday night’s game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder.
First and foremost the game kicks off a much-needed five-game homestand for a Lakers team on a seven-game losing streak. The schedule finally beginning to lighten up some after multiple contests against the likes of the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets.
The Lakers are also starting to get healthy as Brook Lopez makes his return from a sprained ankle and Kyle Kuzma has also been cleared to play. The home game also means Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will be in the lineup, but unfortunately Lonzo Ball is still out with a sprained shoulder.
Then there is the idea of the Lakers’ first game against Paul George, who is known to be one of the team’s top targets in free agency this coming summer. George was very complimentary of Ball before the game and Lakers fans will likely shower him with cheers and adulation all night long.
As for the game itself, the Lakers face a Thunder team that could be figuring things out after a slow start. Though they have lost their last two games (by five points combined), OKC had won six straight before then.
“They’re obviously one of the most talented teams in this league,” Lakers head coach Luke Walton said. “They’re starting to push the ball, they’re killing people on the offensive glass. They’re very dangerous.”
The big matchup to watch will undoubtedly be George against Brandon Ingram. George is one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA, but Ingram has really taken on the challenge of going up against the league’s best in past games.
With the Thunder missing defensive ace Andre Roberson, George will likely spend most of his time on Ingram.
The Lakers figuring out a way to contain reigning MVP Russell Westbrook will of course be a major key. It would seem likely that Caldwell-Pope would get the initial call, but Josh Hart will certainly see some time on him as well.
Westbrook is the engine of this Thunder team and is once again nearly averaging a triple-double. One thing that should help the Lakers in their quest to contain Westbrook is the return of Lopez.
Though he hasn’t been quite as expected on offense, he has been one of the league’s best shot blockers and is far and away the Lakers’ best rim protector. His return should at least give the Thunder some deterrent in attacking the rim.
It will be very interesting to see how Walton handles his lineups. Julius Randle has thrived recently starting at center, but Walton has said he doesn’t like players losing their jobs due to injury.
How he deploys his bench will also be worth watching as the Lakers are far more reliant on it offensively.
Three Keys To Lakers Victory
The Other Guys: Most of the Thunder offense comes from Westbrook, George, and Carmelo Anthony, but the Lakers have been known to allow big games from lesser players. Alex Abrines, Josh Huestis, Raymond Felton, Jerami Grant, and Terrance Ferguson are all players the Lakers can’t allow to have a career night.
Fouling: Even when the Lakers have played good defense, they have had issues with fouling. Facing one of the league’s most aggressive players in Westbrook, the Lakers have to find a way to defend without fouling as they have given up too many easy points at the line.
Clear the Glass: Steven Adams is the NBA’s best offensive rebounder, pulling down five a game. “Adams may be having his best year ever,” Walton said. “Watching film on him, he’s a handful to deal with.”
The Lakers simply can’t allow the Thunder to get multiple chances and cleaning the defensive glass is a must with Adams roaming around.
Los Angeles Lakers (11-25) Vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (20-17)
7:30 P.M. PST, January 3, 2018.
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Tyler Ennis
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: Kyle Kuzma
C: Julius Randle/Brook Lopez
Key Reserves: Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., Corey Brewer, Josh Hart
Projected Thunder Starting Lineup:
PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: Josh Huestis
SF: Paul George
PF: Carmelo Anthony
C: Steven Adams
Key Reserves: Jerami Grant, Patrick Patterson, Alex Abrines, Raymond Felton, Terrance Ferguson
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