The Lakers (36-37) are set for a key matchup against OKC (36-37), in a contest sure to majorly impact the Western Conference playoff push. The head-to-head tiebreaker between the two teams is on the line, with LAL beating OKC 123-117 on March 1, and OKC winning 133-130 on Feb. 7. The game tips at 7:30 p.m. on Spectrum SportsNet and 710 ESPN radio.
Below are three things to know ahead of the matchup:
A LOT ON THE LINE
With just nine games left in the seasons for both the Lakers and Thunder, they’re dead even in terms of wins and losses, including one each against each other. That probably isn’t how the Lakers planned things out prior to the season, but OKC has overachieved with their young team, and LAL have endured an unbalanced roster prior to the trade deadline, on top of multiple-week injuries to their two superstar players in LeBron James (26 games missed) and Anthony Davis (29).
Whoever wins Friday’s game will, simply, have a significant advantage to finish closer to the 7/8 range in terms of the play-in, with a decent chance of getting out of the play-in mix altogether (both teams are 1.5 games back of the No. 6 seed, and 2.5 games back of the No. 4 seed).
“We have to take advantage of this homestand,” said Darvin Ham. “Be efficient about it, and come out ready to compete at a high level for 48 minutes on Friday. It goes without being said that some of the games that slipped through our fingers, but that’s old news now. All we can do now is control how we present the best version of ourselves. Hopefully Friday, we’ll come out with the same type of juice and energy that we had (against Phoenix).”
Austin Reaves, inserted into the starting lineup on Sunday, has been impressed with the Thunder thus far.
“They’re a young team that’s very talented that plays hard, plays the right way and plays for each other,” said Reaves. “It’s going to be us focusing on how we approach the game, how we focus, and really just come out of the gate and try to dominate the game. With the talent that we have, we feel comfortable with where we’re at.”
After exploding for a career-high 35 points off the bench in Sunday’s win against Orlando, Austin Reaves scored 25 more in a starting role against Phoenix, not to mention a career-high 11 assists.
“He pulled me aside yesterday after practice,” said Reaves of Darvin Ham when asked when he knew he’d be starting. “For me, it’s the same mindset: win at all costs. That’s all that really matters.”
Reaves was terrific both on and off the ball, balancing the floor so that D’Angelo Russell didn’t have to do all of the playmaking. He got to the free throw line 13 times, hitting 12, and now ranks 10th in the NBA in FT attempts in March, with 8.2 per game. He also continues to compete well defensively. In short, Reaves has been terrific both coming off the bench, and starting, but his addition into the first five really did give the Lakers a boost against the Suns, a feat for which both he and Ham get credit.
INJURY GAMES MISSED
What’s been the biggest reason that the Lakers are fighting to get into the playoffs? Well, injuries certainly haven’t helped! Here’s a look at the total number of missed games between each NBA team's two best players*:
*Stats as of 3/23/23
TEAM (Games): Two Best Players Games Played = Total Games Missed
Pelicans (71): Zion 29, Ingram 34 = 79
Lakers (73): LeBron 47, Davis 47 = 52
Phoenix (71) Booker 44, CP3 50 = 48 (Durant 12)
Clippers (72): Leonard 41, George 55 = 48
Spurs (71): Johnson 60, Vassell 36 = 46
Warriors (73): Curry 47, Green 64 = 35
Memphis (71): Morant 53, JJJ 54 = 35
Dallas (72): Doncic 57, Irving 53 = 34
Denver (72): Jokic 64, Murray 58 = 22
Portland (71): Lillard 57, Grant 63 = 22
Utah (71): Markkanen 63, Clarkson 61 = 18
Thunder (71): Gilgeous-Alexander 60, Giddey 66 = 16
Minnesota (73): Edwards 71, Gobert 61 = 14
Houston (72): Sengun 65, Green 66 = 13
Sacramento (71): Fox 64, Sabonis 68 = 10
West Total = 492