(Photo By: Ty Nowell/Lakers.com)
Lakers vs. Thunder: 3 Things to Know (1/3/18)
Here is what you need to know before the Lakers aim to defend home court for the first time in 2018.
1) Lakers could be getting much-needed reinforcements
Having cobbled together rotations over the last couple weeks, the Lakers’ outlook was bolstered on Tuesday, when it was announced that Lonzo Ball and Brook Lopez were cleared to practice and questionable for this game.
The Lakers have missed both players on both sides of the ball.
Without Ball over the past four games, the Lakers have struggled to find consistent playmaking in the half court, while finding mixed results pushing the pace in transition.
Those issues have been exacerbated minus Lopez, who provided valuable spacing as defenses have typically respected his 3-point shooting even in a down year (29.7 percent).
Each player is also an above average defender whose absence has been felt by a Lakers squad that has ranked among the NBA’s top 10 defenses this season. During Ball’s stead, L.A. has surrendered a league-high 123.0 points per game.
Returning one or both of these players would be a key boost to the Lakers’ chances. However, the roster could be even thinner on Wednesday, as leading scorer Kyle Kuzma is also listed as questionable.
2) Randle has put up numbers in his starting opportunity
While the Lakers have just one win in the seven games that Lopez has missed, Julius Randle has recently made some personal strides out of the minutes left over.
Randle (who initially received even less playing time when Lopez went down) has started at center for the Lakers’ last three games, putting up 20.7 points and 11.3 rebounds in a small sample size.
He has been efficient with his chances, shooting 60.0 percent from the floor thanks to a blend of speed and power that has allowed him to blow past slower bigs and finish at the rim in pick-and-rolls.
He has also been hustling for put-back opportunities (averaging 4.7 offensive rebounds) and can be a menace defensively when his energy level matches his potential.
On this play, he bulldozes Minnesota’s double screen like Todd Gurley breaking tackles, snags the steal and takes it coast-to-coast for a layup. It’s the kind of play that gives Randle the potential to be special as a small-ball big man.
3) OKC is putting it all together
It took a while, but the Thunder is finally rolling. After starting the season 8-12, Oklahoma City went 12-5 in December as its three-headed monster of Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony started figuring itself out.
Westbrook, the reigning MVP and scoring champion, has been absolutely electric over his last four games, averaging 34.8 points and a triple-double while hitting more than half of his shots.
George has also been on a tear in this stretch, putting up 27.0 points while hitting a game-plan-shattering 19-of-31 on 3-pointers (61.3 percent).
Anthony, meanwhile, has begun to settle into a role as one of the most volatile third scorers in the NBA, while Steven Adams (he of a league-best 5.0 offensive boards per game) remains a brutal foe with his rebounding and screen-setting.
With all of this offensive weaponry among the starting five, it can be easy to forget how stout the Thunder has been defensively this year.
George (2.4) and Westbrook (2.0) are first and second in the NBA in steals, while OKC holds its opponents to the third-fewest points (100.5).
Lakers: Lonzo Ball (left shoulder sprain), Kyle Kuzma (left quad contusion) and Brook Lopez (right ankle sprain) are questionable.
Thunder: Andre Roberson (left patellar tendonitis) is out.
Tip-Off: 7:30 p.m. PT
Radio: 710 ESPN and 1330 KWKW
Unis: MPLS Blue
Location: STAPLES Center — Los Angeles, California