Lakers at Thunder: 3 Things to Know (1/17/18)

Here is what you need to know before the Lakers complete their road trip against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

1) B.I. should be back in business
After missing last game due to injury, Brandon Ingram is expected to return to the starting lineup for this contest.

We last saw Ingram in Dallas, where he was well on his way to his first career triple-double with four points, six rebounds and five assists all in the first quarter. Then he suffered a sprained ankle and missed the following game in Memphis.

However, that brief bit of all-around dominance was a nice microcosm of how Ingram has been playing lately.

Prior to injury, the 20-year-old had averaged 20.8 points on 60.0 percent shooting over his previous four games, scoring from all three levels: at the hoop, mid-range and 3-point distance.

And while his scoring has been piping hot, he has made a difference in all areas of his game, also averaging 5.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists during that stretch.

With a 7-foot-3 wingspan, it’s not hard to find Ingram’s advantage on the boards. And his playmaking has improved markedly this season, as his assist totals haven’t quite reflected just how many scoring opportunities he has made for others with his drive-and-kick game and knack for swinging the ball to open shooters.

2) Lonzo is not expected back yet
While the Lakers should benefit from Ingram’s return, they will likely be without Lonzo Ball for the second straight game.

Already one of the team’s most important all-around players, the Lakers have lost all seven games in which Ball did not play.

His absence affects the team on numerous fronts, as the rookie is already among the NBA’s top 10 in assists, a top-three rebounding guard, a reliable defender, and elite at pushing his team’s pace.

Bringing back Ingram will help the Lakers’ playmaking, though B.I. is at his best as a secondary ball handler, meaning that Tyler Ennis and Jordan Clarkson will be called upon to direct the offense.

Coach Luke Walton could also opt for minutes to recently-signed Gary Payton II, who had a solid debut two days ago with four points, four assists and two blocks in 11 minutes.

Payton likes to play fast on offense and is a pesky defender, so it may be worth experimenting with the two-way point guard.

3) It’s a quick rematch with OKC
Exactly a fortnight ago, the Thunder handed the Lakers one of their worst losses of the season.

Their big three of Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony all scored 20-plus points — as did rookie Terrance Ferguson, who had his best game as a pro.

It’s worth keeping in mind that the Lakers also didn’t have Ball in that game.

Oklahoma City boasts one of the best defenses in the league, holding opponents to the third-fewest points per game (101.0). The Lakers managed just 96 in that first meeting.

Finding scoring will be L.A.’s biggest challenge in this game, as Ball’s absence puts a wrench into its fast-break attack. Look for one of Ingram, Julius Randle or Jordan Clarkson to take up the responsibilities of shouldering the scoring load and making plays for others.

Injury Report
Brandon Ingram (mild left ankle sprain) and Larry Nance Jr. (right hip pointer) are questionable. Lonzo Ball (sore left knee) is doubtful.
Thunder: Andre Roberson (left patellar tendinitis).

Tip-Off: 5 p.m. PT
TV: Spectrum SportsNet and Spectrum Deportes in L.A. ESPN nationally
Radio: 710 ESPN and 1330 KWKW
Unis: Gold
Location: Chesapeake Energy Arena — Oklahoma City, Oklahoma