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Lakers vs. Thunder Preview: Another opportunity to improve

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The Thunder could expose a few flaws in the Lakers’ rotation on Wednesday.

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Los Angeles Lakers v Oklahoma City Thunder Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

With a win against the Utah Jazz on Monday, the Los Angeles Lakers locked up the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, meaning that the five remaining games on their seeding schedule are technically pointless unless they think they have a shot at clinching the best record in the NBA. Even then, there is no real home court advantage in Orlando.

That doesn’t mean the Lakers are ready to take their foot off of the gas yet, though. After practice on Tuesday, Frank Vogel said he doesn’t anticipate that he’ll rest LeBron James , Anthony Davis or any of the team’s veterans before the playoffs start on August 17.

“We haven’t made any final decisions on that,” Vogel said. “The plan right now is to play those guys, and we still have a lot of areas that we feel like we need to improve for us to feel like we’re ready to win games in the playoffs and to be at the level that we want to reach. For us, we’re still in habit-building mode and continuing to just iron some things out that we’re not quite where we were when the hiatus hit, so our mindset is to continue to play our guys to get there.”

The area they have the most room to grow in is their five-man lineups, starting with the first five. In the 34 minutes the starting lineup of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Danny Green, LeBron James, Anthony Davis and JaVale McGee have played together since the season’s restart, they’ve posted a net rating of -27. For the season, they’re a -0.1.

They could also improve their 3-point shooting, but that likely has more to do with players getting their legs back under them as opposed to their 3-point shooting ability. Since the season’s restart, the Lakers have shot 34% from behind the arc.

Los Angeles Lakers v Oklahoma City Thunder Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

The Lakers’ matchup with Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday will be a good test for Vogel because the Thunder have an elite back court with Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Vogel is still trying to figure out which back court combination can defend at a high level in the absence of Avery Bradley. The Lakers lost to the Toronto Raptors on Saturday partially because they couldn’t stop Kyle Lowry and Fred Van Vleet in crunch time.

Aside from that, the Lakers matchup pretty well with the Thunder, or at least they did before the suspension, when they beat them three times in as many tries. The Lakers can complete the sweep with a win on Wednesday.

The game will tip-off at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN nationally and Spectrum SportsNet locally.

Notes and Updates

  • Dwight Howard will not play for the Lakers on Wednesday due to a sore knee. LeBron James (groin) and Anthony Davis (ankle) are probable to play.
  • Rajon Rondo is in Orlando and will begin daily testing on Wednesday, according to Frank Vogel. Once Rondo returns seven consecutive negative tests, he can re-join the Lakers in the bubble at the Walt Disney World Resort.
  • Kyle Kuzma had his season-high in points against the Thunder with Anthony Davis sidelined earlier this year. With how well he’s performed in the bubble, it will be interesting to see if he has another big night; this time with Davis on the floor.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @RadRivas.