Thunder: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Darius Bazley, Derrick Favors
Lakers: Russell Westbrook, Kent Bazemore, Malik Monk, Anthony Davis, DeAndre Jordan
Thunder: Lu Dort (questionable); Gabriel Deck (questionable)
Lakers: LeBron James (out); Trevor Ariza (out); Talen Horton-Tucker (out); Kendrick Nunn (out)
I’m going to be honest, I have about as much enthusiasm in writing this preview as the Lakers did on defense in the 2nd half of the last time these teams played. But, there are some things we need to discuss, so let’s get to it…
LeBron is out with an abdominal strain that could sideline him for up to two weeks. With Bron out, the Lakers are again down too many forwards, and will need to replace Bron’s ball handling duties with Rajon Rondo. The uniqueness of LeBron’s skill set is really noticed with the other injuries the team has, because you really do need to replace him with two players, but the Lakers only have the guard element. In the frontcourt, the team simply doesn’t have the “wings” to make up for things, so they’ll have to play bigger in an attempt to compensate.
On that note, Dwight Howard is expected to return from his neck strain, so I do anticipate Anthony Davis moving back to PF and DeAndre Jordan returning to the starting lineup next to him. Maybe it wouldn’t be this way with LeBron healthy, but, again, with no Ariza, no THT, and now no Bron, there’s simply not enough big(ish) bodies on the perimeter to play the power-small ball style that really is the Lakers best look as a team. So, they’ll patch things together with who they have and try to approximate some of their productive units, even without Bron to prop them up.
On the OKC side, Lu Dort is listed as questionable and missed their last game vs. the Clippers (Monday). With that much time off, maybe Dort plays, but if he doesn’t they’ll have their issues defending Russell Westbrook effectively. Beyond Dort, the Thunder aren’t dealing with injuries of consequence and should be ready to play their best ball otherwise.
What their best ball looks like is, well, something to dive into. The Thunder have a single win in seven games this year — the game they won over the Lakers last week when they climbed back from a 26 point deficit in the 1st half. Otherwise, it’s been all losing, all the time. OKC shows spirit and has kept several games close, but, otherwise, they’ve lost them all. This, of course, might just be the plan for these Thunder this season: play well enough to win, then don’t. Remember, they’re overflowing with 1st round picks over the next half decade and they’re hoping one (or more) of those turn into the Durant/Westbrook/Hardens of that they once had in house.
As for tonight, I’m not going to bore you with X’s and O’s. The Lakers simply need to compete and do so for longer than they did the last time these teams played. There’s a baseline level of respect for the game and your opponent that needs to be shown each night and the Lakers did not meet that level the last time these teams met. So, the Thunder (and the basketball gods) humbled them.
Here’s to the Lakers actually remembering what occurred and coming out with the right amount of energy and focus to exact some revenge. I’m guessing Darius Bazley’s last second dunk may play a role in this, but we’ll see.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet.