Thunder: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Lu Dort, Josh Giddey, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Darius Bazley
Lakers: Russell Westbrook, Kent Bazemore, Malik Monk, Anthony Davis, DeAndre Jordan
Lakers: Anthony Davis, (questionable), LeBron James (out); Trevor Ariza (out); Wayne Ellington (doubtful); Talen Horton-Tucker (out); Kendrick Nunn (out)
After losing their first two games of the season, the Lakers have rattled off two consecutive victories against the Grizzlies and the Spurs. The first was a stay from ahead thriller where the Lakers fended off Ja Morant and the second was a come from behind thriller where they overcame missing LeBron and everyone else listed above as “out” to win in overtime. Some timely shooting from Malik Monk, a supreme Russell Westbrook game, and AD playing like the AD we know and love carried the team home.
Tonight the Lakers are back at it, facing a Thunder team that, after losing their first two games of the season, lost their next two as well. They are, then, 0-4 on the season and, like the Lakers, are playing on the 2nd night of a back to back after losing to the fast-out-the-gates Golden State Warriors. In that game it was OKC who came out hot and fast, taking a lead into halftime, only to give it all back in the 3rd quarter and ultimately lose. For this year’s Thunder, that’s mission accomplished. They want to play hard and well, and then lose. You don’t get the best players in OKC unless you draft them — and Sam Presti and the rest of the organization knows that well.
With that as the backdrop, I expect an interesting game if nothing else. Russell Westbrook is on his 3rd different team since leaving the Thunder, but this still feels like a homecoming of sorts for him. OKC is where he made his name and established himself as one of the games greats. He won his lone MVP there and his number will be retired there one day. Exactly who will join him in this homecoming, however, isn’t yet known.
As noted above, Anthony Davis is questionable to play with some knee soreness. Bron is already out. Ellington, despite ramping up and doing more pre-game work, isn’t likely to play either. THT, Ariza, and Nunn all continue to be out too. Last game the Lakers only had 10 players available, but only 9 actually got run (sorry, Avery Bradley). If AD doesn’t go tonight, will Vogel only play 8 guys? Will Carmelo start at PF? If so, who plays backup forward for this team? Things are already very thin, to think it could be worse tonight is… not great.
That said, if Russell Westbrook can do any one thing it’s raise a team’s floor. His energy and relentlessness have a way of inspiring his teammates as well as netting raw production. If he’s able to get into the paint and score well, it will lead to assist chances for his big men and his shooters spaced beyond the arc. And if those shots can also fall… you see where I’m going with that.
Of course, OKC is young and, despite what I said above about desires to lose, every player in the league gets up to compete against the Lakers. The young Thunder are very likely to be bothered less by playing in a back to back, and those fresher legs could very lead to easier baskets in transition, more life on the backboards, and just a quicker first step to the ball in every situation. That stuff will matter a great deal tonight, and normally it’s the shorthanded team who loses those battles.
I say all that to prepare you for a potentially frustrating night. There’s a lot of ifs here, but if AD doesn’t play and if Russ can’t replicate his same efforts from last night and if the outside shots don’t fall and if DeAndre and Dwight don’t show the same urgency defensively as they did in San Antonio, the Lakers could very well lose. In fact, if just a couple of those things happen, the team could lose — forget needing all of them to. So, buckle up for what could be an outcome none of us want.
Of course, on the other hand, the Lakers have Austin Reaves on their side, so I’m probably worrying for nothing.
Where you can watch: 5:00pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet.