Nick Gallo (okcthunder.com) previews tonight’s game against the Lakers: “Both the Hawks and Lakers are in the top three in the NBA in pace, top five in points in the paint, and rank number one and two in field goals attempted in the restricted area. If there was ever a prime chance for the Thunder to get right in the areas where it struggled in its last game, Thursday’s battle with the Lakers will provide the perfect test to see how the Thunder can protect the rim. With playmakers like Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram along with roll men in the form of Kyle Kuzma and JaVale McGee, the Lakers will aggressively attack the Thunder all night.”
Joey Ramirez (Lakers.com) with three things to know ahead of tonight: “The Thunder boast the NBA’s highest-rated defense, but in their last five games they have surrendered a league-high 128.6 points, which has unsurprisingly resulted in four losses. But Oklahoma City has no shortage of firepower, led by top-10 scorer Paul George — who dropped 37 points on the Lakers two weeks ago and has scored 30-plus in 11 of his last 20 games. Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook is on pace to average a triple-double for the third straight season, and Steven Adams is a monster on the offensive glass. Toss in a potential return to defensive form and OKC is one of the most formidable opponents in the NBA.”
OddsShark.com with a betting preview of tonight’s Thunder/Lakers showdown: “Oklahoma City has lost four of its past five games after winning four of five, and the team expects to perform better, especially here versus Los Angeles. The Thunder are 13-3 straight up in the past 16 meetings with the Lakers, also going 11-5 against the spread during that stretch. The lone game between them this season saw Oklahoma City win 107-100 as a five-point road favorite at Staples Center on January 2 behind 37 points from Paul George. This game is about motivation, and the Thunder will have plenty of it after splitting their past 10—the worst mark of any of the top six teams in the conference over that span. They want to finish as one of the best three teams in the West, and the Portland Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs are all on their heels.”
Erik Horne (Oklahoman) on Alex Abrines and Nerlens Noel returning to practice: “Coming off one of its worst losses of the season in Atlanta, the Thunder received some good news on Wednesday. Thunder coach Billy Donovan said both Alex Abrines (personal reasons) and Nerlens Noel (concussion protocol) were participants in Wednesday’s non-contact practice in Oklahoma City. Abrines has missed the Thunder’s last 11 games, while Noel has missed the last three games after suffering a concussion Jan. 8 against Minnesota. Abrines was on the team’s trip to Atlanta, but was inactive. Recently, the third-year guard has been coming in to the Thunder’s practice facility for workouts and shooting.”
Rory Masterson (FanSided) on Good Russ/Bad Russ: “On the one hand, when he scores 30 points and dishes 12 assists but has fewer than 10 3-point attempts, which he has done 26 times in that time period, the Thunder are 19-7. He has dropped this on the Atlanta Hawks four times (!) and thrice hit the Toronto Raptors and Denver Nuggets. On the other, well, when he shoots more than 20 times in a game and on less than 40 percent from the field, you know the Thunder are in trouble: he has done this a whopping 79 times since the start of the 2014-15 season, and Oklahoma City are 29-50 in those games, good for a .367 win percentage, which is better than his 3-point shooting at any point during his career. Russell Westbrook is perhaps the one NBA player incapable of self-actualization; what would the ideal Westbrook game/season/career even look like? His usage rate is at the lowest it’s been since 2009, while his league-leading steal percentage and assists per game numbers are notably making up for some of his shortcomings on the other end.”
Maddie Lee (Oklahoman) on Russell Westbrook going 1v1 against UCLA point guard Jaylen Hands over the summer: “Russell Westbrook’s explosiveness caught UCLA point guard Jaylen Hands by surprise. Hands knew about it in theory. He had watched the Thunder point guard on TV for years. But staring Westbrook in the face that summer day, close enough to count the beads of sweat on his forehead, Hands could feel the power behind each step. Hands and his teammates had gone to the UCLA practice gym, with its court named after Westbrook, to watch the former Bruin and his pickup team. The outing ended with Hands playing Westbrook one-on-one. “It’s way different than a TV screen,” Hands told The Oklahoman.”
Jarrel Harris (SI) on the Nike PG3 sneaker: “When it comes to ranking each individual sneaker, it falls chronologically. The PG 1 will always be a personal favorite because of its combination of performance features and aesthetic. The PG 2 was an impressive follow-up (I prefer the 2.5) and was worn throughout last season by various NBA players. The PG 3 is fresh and new but I need to see more colorways before I can rank it above the others. The NASA inspired colorway is pretty cool and pays homage to his hometown of Palmdale, California, which is known for its Space research center. He wore a black colorway in the epic gameagainst the Spurs but fans on social media were quick to call out that it reminded them of Nike Hyperdunk models.”
Around the League: James Harden dropped 58 but the Rockets lost to the Nets…. Steph Curry is on a historic three-game 3-point run…. Boogie Cousins thinks the Warriors are the most hated team in sports…. Kyrie turned to LeBron for advice and offered an apology…. The unlikelihood of Turkey extraditing Enes Kanter…. The most objectively underrated players in the league…. Recapping last night’s NBA action.