If the latest Paul George quotes and rumors have distracted you from the fact that the Lakers actually play a game against the Thunder on Wednesday night, I wouldn’t blame you. Especially with the Lakers in the midst of a 7 game losing streak. Who wants to think about this team, right now, when you can think about Paul George and next year’s fictional juggernaut??!!
In all seriousness, there is a game and the Lakers sorely need to find their way. The good news is that Brook Lopez is healthy enough to play and Lonzo Ball is very close to coming back. Lopez will help in this game and Lonzo…well, maybe he’ll have on another cool t-shirt we can admire.
When it comes to a matchup against OKC, it’s all pretty simple. Russell Westbrook remains a monster, George is still one of the best two-way wings in the league, and Carmelo Anthony is finally starting to shift to the right sized role for him on this specific roster. Add in a top level defense overall with Anthony Roberson and Steven Adams (along with George) anchoring, and this team can be very good even if their 20-17 record isn’t awe inspiring.
The Lakers, then, will have their hands full. Missing Lonzo hurts, especially this game, because the Lakers desperately need good decision making and better execution against a defense of this caliber. They cannot afford to be slow getting into their sets or to miss the openings made available to them with delayed passes or missed reads outright. That means Brandon Ingram, Jordan Clarkson, and Tyler Ennis will need to be sharp in how they initiate the team’s sets while Lopez, Julius Randle, and Kyle Kuzma will need to be expert level finishers and consistent secondary playmakers.
Defensively, getting back in transition and defending against Westbrook will be paramount. Besides a fully engaged LeBron, John Wall, or Giannis, there’s no player in the league that comes close to rivaling the terror that Westbrook is in the open court. He is relentless in attacking the rim and will exploit any crevice provided to him by a defense in full retreat. The Lakers must get back, they must wall him off, and they must do so every single time. Limiting turnovers will help in this, but long rebounds or even quick inbounds of makes present opportunities for Russ to shake loose. The Lakers must be aware.
In the half court, the Lakers must not ball-watch. Westbrook dribbling around and monopolizing the ball can be hypnotic. But, before you know it, Adams then crushes you with a pick or Roberson cuts backdoor or George comes off a pin-down or Carmelo slides into a shooting window and you’re toast because you weren’t even paying attention. The Lakers must be engaged on their own man AND manage to keep an eye on Russ who can explode to the rim at a moment’s notice. This has not been a strongsuit of the Lakers in recent games, so they’d be wise to find the right level of attentiveness.
Speaking candidly, this should be the Lakers 8th straight loss. OKC is just better and most times, the game really is that simple. Add in the level the Lakers have been playing at of late and, well…yeah. That said, the Lakers begin a 5 game home stand tonight and they seem to get up to play top opponents or teams with big name stars. This game certainly qualifies.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on ESPN