Records: Lakers 12-2, Thunder 5-9
Offensive ratings: Lakers 109.6 (10th), Thunder 104.3 (22nd)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 100.5 (2nd), Thunder 104.7 (12th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Danny Green, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, JaVale McGee
Thunder: Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Terrance Ferguson, Danilo Gaillinari, Steven Adams
Injuries: Lakers: Avery Bradley (out), Alex Caruso (questionable); Thunder: Andre Roberson (out), Hamidou Diallo (out)
The Lakers coming in: The Lakers have won 5 games in a row, their last a win over their same opponent tonight, the Thunder, on Tuesday. In terms of trends, the Lakers are now ranked 2nd on defense, but are 10th in offense, and still boast the league’s best net rating and best overall win-loss record.
Speaking of offense, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann has a piece up today looking at the 5 teams who have improved their offense the most since last season and one of them is the Lakers. Schuhmann notes (as he should) that this team can probably be even better on offense than they are considering their 3-point shooting to this point in the year and the relative efficiency of LeBron and AD. Anyways, give his piece a look.
Besides that, the Lakers understand that things are good right now and already seem to be bracing for the inevitable adversity that every season brings. Whether it comes on this road trip or not remains to be seen,1A road trip closing game in New Orleans vs. the Pelicans when Davis returns to the franchise he spurned will be worthy candidate here. but they do recognize it will come and, possibly, soon. Understanding this, I think, is important, but not as important as how this team responds.
Teams that want to win the title will have ups and downs that rarely seem to be remembered should they actually achieve their goal. The end result usually smooths that stuff over in a way that renders it as a footnote, particularly for outsiders. But, should the Lakers actually be the last team standing, I can guarantee you they’ll remember what those moments were, how they responded to them, and how that response helped drive them forward.
Just something to keep tucked away for us who watch intently.
The Thunder coming in: There’s little to say about the Thunder since the last time we did this. So, if you want to know my specific thoughts on them and where they’re at as a team/organization, you can just read this same section from the last game preview. Haha.
Keys to the game: Before Tuesday’s matchup between these teams, Frank Vogel said playing this same OKC team back to back would allow him to go into “playoff mode” for his preparation for Friday’s game by looking at what worked and did not work on Tuesday and then tweak the gameplan/make adjustments accordingly.
With that, it’s good to look at this game through the prism of Tuesday and use that vantage point to inform what the Lakers need to do this game to win again.
When doing that, there are 4-5 things that interest me/I think will matter a great deal in how this game plays out:
- Can the Lakers push the pace again by forcing turnovers? OKC came into Tuesday’s game as one of the better transition defense teams in the league. The Lakers then proceeded to push the pace at every opportunity, first by forcing turnovers, but later off defensive rebounds and even off some made baskets. LeBron threw the ball ahead a ton and Rondo was clearly looking to advance the ball quickly off the dribble whenever he was in the game. Watch out for how OKC adjusts this game and whether the Lakers are as determined to play this same style.
- Will OKC’s starting backcourt play better? Tuesday might have been one of the less impactful games I’ve seen Chris Paul play offensively. He seemed rather content to simply get the Thunder into their sets and then hang out while others did the heavy lifting. SGA was more aggressive than Paul, but was not effective. I would imagine both would be more assertive and, frankly, better tonight than they were on Tuesday. The question is how the Lakers try to counter that and/or if they ramp up their defensive intensity accordingly.
- Will Dennis Schroeder be paid more attention to? Schroeder shredded the Lakers defense on Tuesday, first by turning the Lakers lack of respect for his shooting ability against them and later by simply torching them after they tried to turn it up but he was already in too good a rhythm to be slowed down. Alex Caruso, who is questionable but should play, will be key here as he’s the team’s best defensive option vs. Schroeder. If he can get it going again, though, the Lakers could be in real trouble, especially if Paul/SGA are also going better than on Tuesday.
- The Lakers need to, again, target Anthony Davis early and often. In the first matchup, OKC put Steven Adams on AD to try to neutralize him. Adams’ size and strength is a nice counter to AD’s ability to overpower many PF’s around the league. That said, Davis still has a quickness advantage and, especially when deployed in the P&R with LeBron handling the ball, can be put into space where he’s catching the ball on the move with Adams trying to recover to him. The game within the game will be whether Adams hedges as high/as level to the ball as he did on Tuesday in order to deter LeBron drives. If he does, the pocket pass will be there for AD to slide into the creases and either shoot a mid-range J, drive to the rim, or kick out to shooters when the help comes. If Adams plays in a more traditional drop coverage, LeBron should look to attack the rim to finish for himself or draw more help and then look for the late lob to Davis or kick-out passes to shooters. Either way, I want to see a heavy dosage of P&R’s to make OKC have to make hard choices.
- Keep shooting the ball well. The Lakers are hitting nearly 40% of their 3’s during this 5 game winning streak and if that continues this game they’ll be hard to beat.
That’s all for this one, ya’ll. Enjoy the game.
Where you can watch: 5:00pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet.
*All stats via stats.nba.com