- When: Wednesday, 03 January 2018 at 9:30 pm CST
- Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
- TV: ESPN/FSOK
- Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 930 AM (Spanish))
- Line: OKC -5.5 | O/U – 214
As the Oklahoma City Thunder embark on a new year, the ship seems to be sailing in a much more positive direction than it just a month ago. The defense is still playing at a high level, while the offense seems to have figured most of itself out. Russell Westbrook appears to be over his late November/early December slump that saw him uncharacteristically look like he was questioning his every move on the court. Carmelo Anthony looks to have discovered what his role with this team will be and seems to be reveling in that role. Paul George seems to still be teetering with his role, but has found enough of an identity to average 27 points per game in his last 4 games played. And Steven Adams looks intent on making the Big 3 a quartet with his surprisingly good play in the first two months of the season.
The results haven’t always been great, but the defensive effort, for the most part, has been there. And for a team looking to compete in the Western Conference, defense is probably most important key to the game. The ability to hold the Kevin Durants, Stephen Currys, and James Hardens of the conference at bay should be enough to keep this team afloat as they continue to figure out their offensive identity.
The Lakers come into this game having lost their last 7 games and 10 of their last 11 overall. They have been decimated by injuries of late, with Brook Lopez missing the last 8 games and Lonzo Ball missing the last 5 games. Lopez has been cleared to play in tonight’s game. Kyle Kuzma has been bothered by a quad injury of late, but will play against the Thunder. Brandon Ingram has been up and down this season, averaging 16.1 points per game on 31.5% shooting from deep.
Three Keys to the Game
1. Interior Defense
Steven Adams will be key in the game on the defensive end. The Lakers are the league’s worst 3-point shooting team at 32.6% from deep, but they get the most buckets in the paint, averaging 54.5 points per game in that area of the floor. The Thunder’s defense is tailor-made to defend the middle, so unless the Lakers’ find their shooting touch (which teams tend to do every time they play the Thunder), the Lakers’ weaknesses should play into the Thunder’s strengths.
The Lakers, with all those young guys, love to run. They lead the league in pace at 103.9 possessions per game. The Thunder, on the other hand, are one of the slower teams in the league, averaging only 97.45 possessions per game (24th in the league). The Thunder can run, but prefer to slow things down and get into their offense. If the Thunder find themselves in a track meet with the Lakers, this game could go the way of the Mavericks game. Not having Andre Roberson on the floor could be an issue for the Thunder in this department.
3. Forcing turnovers
The Lakers turn the ball over 15.6% of their possessions, which is 27th in the league. The Thunder, on the other hand, force their opponents into turnovers on 17.1% of their possessions (1st in the league). Again, another area of the game where the Lakers’ weakness plays into the Thunder’s strength.