L.A. Lakers at Oklahoma City
Time: 1 PM CT (ABC/ESPN)
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The Oklahoma City Thunder have lost three-straight and will host the L.A. Lakers at Noon Eastern Time/1 Central on ABC ESPN. The Thunder are likely to be slightly favored, but as of the time of issue, no odds have been released.
OKC had won seven-straight prior to this three-game skid and is 11-15 on the road this season. The Lakers are 12-14 at Staples Center and have won six of its last 10 games overall, as well.
Over the last 10 games, Utah product and rookie Kyle Kuzma has tailed off some. He is averaging 13.2 points, four rebounds and two assists over his last 10 games while playing just 25.5 minutes a night. Brandon Ingram is out of the lineup with a leg injury, and lately Lonzo Ball has ruled out too with a knee injury that will cause him to miss this contest, too. Julius Randle has seen an uptick in playing time and is averaging 17.3 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 27 minutes a night over the Lakers’ past 10 games. Randle had 19 points, 12 rebounds and two assists in the 102-99 victory over Brooklyn on Feb. 2, and he has averaged 16.8 points and 10.2 rebounds over his last five games.
The fact that Randle has come on in Kuzma’s decline is no accident, but the Lakers have been winning more games with the more-experienced Randle seeing the bulk of the minutes at the 4-spot. L.A.’s defense has been so poor already, that it can only improve even if Randle is defensively undersized as a power forward. Also still in the mix is 6-foot-9 forward Larry Nance Jr, who sees 24 minutes a night to average eight points and seven boards per. Nance is a defensive gem, and he comes up with 2.3 steals/blocks in just half a game.
The Lakers have the different cogs to rotate in at forward, and if Kuzma begins to hit a rookie wall it will only result in more minutes for the more-productive veterans. That is to say, the Lakers may win a few extra games despite being in an overall tank effort, simply because Randle is a rougher and better interior player than Kuzma, and Nance Jr. is a better defender than both.
OKC is 19-8 at home this season, but it has lost its past three outings to the New Orleans Pelicans (at home), Denver Nuggets and Washington Wizards. Prior to that skid, the Thunder had won eight straight games. Still, at 30-23, Oklahoma City is in the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference and it seems their best ball still could be in front of them as a team.
Carmelo Anthony has adapted now to a tertiary role on the team, with Paul George and Russell Westbrook doing the heavy offensive-lifting. Anthony still averages 17.4 points and six rebounds per game, but he does so in “just” 32.7 minutes a night, while George and Westbrook play 36-plus respectively. Steven Adams is making a strong impact on the interior as one of the most underrated 5-men in the Association, and his 13.9 points and 9.1 rebounds do precious little justice to what an impact he has as the main defensive piece in OKC’s strong defensive attack.
Veteran Andre Roberson provides similar role at the tune of 26.6 minutes of tough defense per game, while Terrence Ferguson has looked promising a rookie in his spot minutes (and 11 starts!). The Thunder quietly have built some depth on its roster, and Raymond Felton still serves as a good spark in the second unit, along with small forward Jerami Grant, who has averaged 7.5 points per game in his 52 appearances this year. The Thunder seem to have just enough firepower and just enough depth to be a top-5 team in the West, but do they have enough to contend with Golden State and Houston? Thus far, the answer may be “yes.” The Thunder are 4-1 against Golden State, Houston and San Antonio this year, and they seem to save their best games for the heavy-hitters.