Thunder vs. Lakers: Pregame Primer
Thunder (8-6, 2-2 road) vs. Lakers (7-7, 4-3 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 930 AM (Spanish))
Time: 9:30 PM CST
Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 100.6 (23rd), Lakers – 107.4 (9th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 100.8 (5th), Lakers – 107.2 (26th)
The threat. Just the threat of a 3-point shooter can make this Thunder offense so much better. This was crystallized for me in one play in the 4th quarter of the Thunder’s 115-111 loss to the Pacers. The play was your basic big/small pick and roll with Russell Westbrook and Joffrey Lauvergne. With the pick set, Lauvergne’s man hedged a little too hard on Westbrook, and Lauvergne rolled down the lane. Westbrook hit him in stride and Lauvergne dunked it.
The major difference between this play and what seems like every other big/small pick and roll the Thunder tried in that game was the fact there was barely anyone in the paint. The reason: The Thunder overloaded the left side of the floor, and ran the roll on the weak side of the floor. The only defender on that side was Monta Ellis, who had to pick his poison between defending a big or staying on the Thunder’s “best” 3-point shooter. Ellis decided to stay at home on Morrow and Lauvergne got an easy two.
I put the word best in quotations because, while Morrow’s specialty is 3-point shooting, he has made as many 3-pointers this season as I have. But just the threat of having him out there was enough to space the floor out and allow for more maneuverability in the paint. Any lineup that features Westbrook and a rolling big (Lauvergne, Steven Adams, or Enes Kanter) needs to also include one of either Morrow or Alex Abrines. Just the threat of one of those two should provide enough attention for Westbrook to wreck havoc on the defense.
Season Series Recap
This is the second of three meetings between the Thunder and Lakers. The Thunder won the first game 113-96, as Westbrook collected his 2nd triple-double of the season with 33 points, 12 rebounds, and 16 assists. In addition, the big man combo of Adams and Kanter combined for 30 points and 18 rebounds.
The Lakers come into this game with a 7-7 record, having lost their last two games (both at home). Of all the teams that have been rebuilding over the past two seasons (Minnesota, Philadelphia, Denver), Los Angeles seems to be the furthest along. D’Angelo Russell can catch fire with the best of them and has a Kobe-like flair for the dramatics. Russell is questionable for the game with a sore knee. Jordan Clarkson seems to be flourishing in his role as the Lakers’ 6th man. Julius Randle seems to be progressing in his quest to the Lakers’ version of Draymond Green (sans crotch kicks, of course). Larry Nance Jr. appears to be the ultimate glue guy/role player. And the veterans (Lou Williams, Nick Young, Luol Deng, and Timofey Mozgov) seem to be melding seemlessly with their younger counterparts.
But the piece that can push the Lakers over the edge in the near future is rookie Brandon Ingram. The 6’9″ SF (really, another guy that is really, not really 6’9″?) has struggled a bit in these first 14 games of the season, but he has also shown flashes of being the star the Lakers envisioned. The Lakers have used him at a variety of positions, even at point guard, and Ingram has responded by not forcing the issue and playing smart basketball (he’s only averaging 1 turnover per game in 22 minutes, which, for a rookie, is an infinitesimal amount). He still needs to get stronger, both in the upper body and the lower body, but the tools are all there for a 2nd or 3rd year productivity spike.
- Cameron Payne (foot)
- Semaj Christon (concussion)
3 Big Things1. Turnovers
The Lakers are a team that flips turnovers into points at a high rate. Points off turnovers accounts for 17.3% of the Lakers’ total points, which is 6th highest in the NBA. In addition, 15% of their total points are in the fast break. Not only do the Thunder have to watch their turnovers, but they also have to get back on defense when a turnover does occur.2. Attack the paint
The Lakers are the worst rim protecting team in the league. Not one of the worst. The literal worst. Julius Randle leads the team in blocks at 0.6 blocks per game. As a team, they average a league worst 3.8 blocks per game. Opponent are shooting 47.5% from the field against the Lakers, which is the highest percentage allowed by a team. And the Lakers allow a league worst 49.9 points per game in the paint.
Westbrook, Adams, Kanter, Oladipo, Grant: please feast!3. Westbrook triple double watch
With the Lakers’ weakness on the inside, this seems like the perfect game for Westbrook to do his triple-double thing. I’m already putting a watch out there, 2 hours before tip-off.