Russell Westbrook with the layup vs OKC

Three Things to Know: Lakers at Thunder - 12/10/21

by Mike Trudell

The Lakers (13-13) travel to Oklahoma City (8-16) for the second night of a back-to-back set of games following a tough Thursday night loss at Memphis. The game tips at 5:00 p.m., with the pregame show starting at 4:00 p.m. Pacific on Spectrum SportsNet.

Below are three things to know about the matchup:

CASUAL APPROACH
Things started off quite well in Memphis, thanks mostly to LeBron James, who did a bit of everything in the first quarter to help the Lakers build an early 9-point lead as they carried over momentum from a strong game against Boston two days earlier. But with 28 seconds left, Russell Westbrook missed two free throws on one end, and L.A. failed to clear a defensive board leading to a three on the other end that allowed Memphis to trim the margin to four at the end of the first.

Then it the second quarter, the energy completely shifted over to the home team, who used several bench players that don’t typically get much action due to the absence of starters Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks. They outhustled the Lakers to loose balls, caused turnovers and converted on the other end, enough to outscore L.A. 34-24 in the quarter.

“The second quarter is where the energy of the game shifted,” said Frank Vogel. “Our turnovers went way up, we didn’t rebound the basketball, we were slow at every loose ball and there was just too much of a casualness to our approach. After we got that early lead, we got casual. We started turning the basketball over and stopped defensive rebounding.”

Then in the third quarter, the Lakers again started strong, again led by LeBron, who did manage his 100th career triple-double in the loss, as they turned a 6-point halftime deficit into a 4-point lead midway through the period … only to give up a big run to close a quarter they’d trail 85-78 by its end. Memphis won the fourth quarter as well, holding LAL to 17 points, good for a 13-point final margin.

TURNOVERS
Whether they came due to a lack of energy or execution, turnovers killed the Lakers at Memphis. They committed 22, nine more than the Grizzlies, including nine in that pivotal second quarter.

“Turnovers are always all shapes and sizes,” said Vogel. “There is never one thing. I do feel like we failed to make the simple play, especially in that second quarter. We had open guys and we were trying to force the ball into a crowd. When a simple play is ahead of you, with guys open, there’s two plays that stuck out for me during that stretch. You just have to play the game with a level of ball security to win a basketball game. If you’re going to turn over 22 times then you’re going to have a great chance of losing that game.”

The TO’s came from L.A.’s primary ballhandlers, including five from LeBron, all in the first half, and six from Russell Westbrook.

Afterwards, LeBron pointed out that L.A. had done a good job of cutting down on its turnovers of late, but they were the difference against the Grizzlies.

“Tonight turnovers killed us,” he explained. “We were doing a hell of a job over the last seven games, averaging only 12.5 turnovers and tonight we had 22 for 27 points. That’s been like our Achilles heel (except for) for the last seven games and tonight it bit us in the butt.”

AVENGING OKC
Among L.A.’s most tough-to-stomach losses this season came to the same team, in close succession: at OKC on Oct. 27, and vs. OKC on Nov. 4. LeBron did happen to miss most games, which is always significant, but the Lakers were in especially strong position to win the road game, which they led by 26 points in the first half.

One figured that would be on their minds when they met a week later in Los Angeles, but the Lakers that time blew a 19-point advantage.

“We shouldn’t have lost this one,” said Anthony Davis after the game. “It didn’t come down to LeBron not being here. ... We’re OK, but it hurts to lose to the same team twice within a week in the same way, the same fashion. That’s something we’ve got to take upon ourselves and hold ourselves accountable.”

They’ll have their chance, yet again, on Friday night against an OKC team on a 2-game winning streak, after road victories at Detroit and Toronto in which Shai Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 28 points and 11 assists.

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