- Tip-off: 9:30 p.m. CT
- Television:Fox Sports Oklahoma
- Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
LOS ANGELES – Taking care of business against the NBA’s elite hasn’t been an issue so far this season for the Thunder. It’s been maintaining that same level of play against some of the league’s lesser powers that has been a challenge.
This California road trip will be a perfect test to see whether the Thunder can follow up a dominant 20-point road win over the defending champion Golden State Warriors with another strong performance against the rebuilding Los Angeles Lakers.
In order to do so, the Thunder will need to replicate its effort on both ends of the floor against Golden State, where it played relentlessly, together and with tenacity for all 48 minutes despite center Steven Adams battling foul trouble and forward Carmelo Anthony suffering an ankle sprain in the first quarter. Despite having to watch the remaining three and a half quarters, Anthony was able to breakdown the reasons for success that must be carried over.
“Our focus, our effort, our energy on both ends of the court,” Anthony reviewed. “We got the loose balls, all the hustle points. Diving on the floor, second chance offensive rebounds.”
“We executed our gameplan to a T, and as a result we got another big road win,” Anthony added. “We just did a great job of just staying with it, coming out focused, understanding the lead that we had and not wanting to give it up, not wanting to kind of take our foot off the gas.”
A major catalyst for the Thunder on both ends of the floor was the dynamic, dominant Paul George. He scored 38 points and racked up six steals, and he’ll have to continue playing with that same electricity against a Lakers squad that beat the Thunder in Oklahoma City just a few days ago.
In order to prevent Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma from getting into a rhythm along the wing, George will need to be just as pesky in the passing lanes as he was in Oakland. Thanks to dropping some pounds during the season to keep up with Russell Westbrook, George is capable of doing that on a nightly basis.
“If I can get my hand on (the ball), I’m going to try to,” George said. “I’m a lot lighter. I can move, I can get up a little better. It’s easier to move up and down the court now than it was to start this year. It’s better for me when I’m lighter on my feet.”
After seeing the Lakers just a few days ago, the scouting report will be familiar. The Thunder will need to close out hard on shooters like Brook Lopez at the center spot and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at shooting guard. On Tuesday in Oakland the Thunder closed out, scrambled and covered for one another on the back side of the defense, something it didn’t do at a very high level on Sunday in Oklahoma City. This Thunder squad has seen how high it can climb when firing on all cylinders. The task in Los Angeles is to rev the engines back up and do it again.
“I’m with these guys every single day. We put the work in every single day,” Anthony said. “I know what type of team we have. I know what we are, what we can do, what we’re capable of.”
“To me as a coach I always look at the consistency part. You want your group to be consistent,” Head Coach Billy Donovan added.
•UPDATE - Anthony’s ankle and his status for the Lakers game is uncertain at this time, as is Westbrook, who is also nursing a sprained ankle. At shootaround at UCLA, where the Thunder practiced on Russell Westbrook Court at the UCLA Bruins practice facility, Donovan did not disclose whether or not Anthony and Westbrook will play tonight. Both are viewed as game time decisions. The starting lineup will be determined based on their availability.
•George may have been the guiding presence all night against the Warriors, but Westbrook was the ringleader, playing with a pace and tempo that kept Golden State off balance and Thunder players in rhythm. He continually got downhill to attack the rim himself or dump passes off to Steven Adams and Jerami Grant for easy finishes at the rim. His focus, determination and fearlessness are all qualities the team needs to channel on a nightly basis, regardless of opponent.
- “Russ set the tone for us, especially offensively getting it going, being as aggressive as he was coming out of the gate,” Anthony recapped. “It was one of those nights where we as a team followed what he was able to bring out there and what he was able to establish”.
- “Every night I go out and try to compete and make sure my team and my guys are ready to play, regardless of who the team is. That’s how we gotta play. That’s gotta be our mindset,” Westbrook explained. “Our job is to worry our team, this locker room and that’s all I worry about.”
•An interesting wrinkle that the Thunder went to in the second half of the game against the Warriors, which could be an option against the Lakers, was throwing the ball into the post for Adams to make plays. On multiple occasions Adams finished at the rim, including a few beautiful baseline spin moves that he converted for dunks or impressive reverse layups under the rim. In addition to the areas where he excels – rebounding and pick and roll defense – Adams has proven to be a threat on offense, which can be a nice changeup for the Thunder to toss every now and then.
- “What (Adams) is able to bring the game offensively, on the glass, defensively, he shapes our team,” Anthony said. “What he brings to the team is a major, major part of our team’s success.”