After what easily could have been classified as rock-bottom with LeBron James’ injury, and a rough stretch highlighted by losses to the lowly Knicks and Cavaliers, the Lakers triumphantly resurrected optimism Thursday night with an impressive 138-128 win over the Thunder.
The overtime victory, which was arguably the Lakers' best of the season, felt just a little bit sweeter because of the stellar performances turned in from their young players. Of the 138 points the Lakers scored (which came at the expense of the second-best defensive team in the league) 108 were provided by players the team has drafted over the past few seasons.
After several games of mixed results and playing down to their competition, the road contest was one of the few games this season where all of the team’s young players collectively played a part in securing the win. But a daunting upcoming schedule still looms for the team with James’ return date still up in the air.
To this point, the Lakers' young players have struggled to string together consistent positive outings without James, but in order for the team to build any momentum, they will need to maintain this level of production as their schedule gets harder, starting with a nationally televised matchup against a red-hot James Harden on Saturday.
Any attempt in containing Harden will likely have to be through a team effort, as he has been absolutely otherworldly of late. In his last 15 games, the bearded one is averaging over 42 points, nine assists and shooting nearly 39 percent on an unreal 16.3 3-point attempts per contest.
Behind Harden’s dynamic production, the Houston Rockets have climbed out of the slums of the Western Conference and are right back into the playoff hunt. However, a costly injury to center Clint Capela may open the door for the Lakers to pull off another upset on the road.
While on the injury front, the Lakers may finally be returning to full form as veteran backup point guard, Rajon Rondo, has been cleared to return to practice.
Rondo, who underwent surgery on his finger after injuring it in the same game James went down, has missed the team’s last 12 games.
Although the Lakers have a tough stretch ahead of them, their recent stunning victory and strong play by the young core, coupled with possible major reinforcements on the horizon, could signal an exciting second half of the season. That scenario will seem a whole lot more likely if the Lakers can beat the Rockets.