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Lakers vs. Thunder Preview: L.A. faces easiest opponent yet

There’s really no excuse for the Lakers to blow this game against a really young and inexperienced Thunder team

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Los Angeles Lakers v Oklahoma City Thunder Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images

The Lakers will play on the second night of a back-to-back for the first time this season against a rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder team on Thursday. The good news for the purple and gold is that OKC is their easiest opponent so far this season, and both teams will meet twice in the next two weeks. Like the Lakers, this Thunder team will also be on the second night of a back-to-back ahead of Thursday’s game, and so there’s not even a built in rest excuse for L.A. to blow this one against a really young and inexperienced team.

Even more notably, the Thunder have dropped all four of their games so far. Granted, their main focus this year is to develop their young players and get more draft assets, which means every loss is a win for them (something Lakers fans experienced not too long ago). But still, the point is they’re really bad.

OKC’s mistake last season was that they won too many games in the first half of the regular season, enough that their hopes for a high draft pick were in jeopardy at the end of the year. And despite some truly shameless tanking in their last few games (including their infamous tank-off in their final matchup vs. the Clippers) Oklahoma City didn’t receive a top-five pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. This is important to note, because Sam Presti’s roster construction makes it clear he does not want to repeat the same mistake, setting up the Lakers for an easy win on paper.

Speaking of performance, the Thunder finished dead last in offensive efficiency and net rating last season. Their spacing and shooting were (and still are) their biggest weaknesses. The Lakers can exploit this, especially if Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan protect the paint. The veteran Lakers will have to outshoot and physically overpower the young Thunder if they want to build an early lead and call it a game as early as the third quarter.

There’s also good chance that LeBron James (who Frank Vogel said is questionable for Wednesday’s game) sits this one out again. It would be great if the Lakers can build off the momentum from Tuesday’s overtime victory and avoid making the same mistakes they did vs. the Spurs.

L.A. needs to rebound the ball better, stop giving up so many wide open 3-point shots, and let Russell Westbrook do Russell Westbrook things inside the paint.

Moreover, this is another opportunity for the Lakers to build on-court chemistry, test their rotations, and get more reps in together. Aside from securing a victory, the Lakers should also focus on executing and polishing their new offensive system and improving their defense, specifically on the perimeter.

Lakers’ perimeter defender Kent Bazemore will probably have his hands full once again with NBA fantasy league darling Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (SGA). The promising young star has a knack for making defenders look silly with his complete offensive package (stop-and-start drives, scoop layups, up-and-under rim finishes and step-back 3-pointers). He’s also excellent off the dribble and can playmake from anywhere on the court. Bazemore will have to keep up with SGA’s speed, avoid committing silly fouls and utilize his veteran experience on him.

Aside from SGA, some notable players the Lakers must keep an eye on are Lu Dort (an impressive defensive player), Derrick Favors, Josh Giddey, Théo Maledon and Tre Mann. They need to pay attention to all of them, because they won’t know which random role player is participating in the annual tradition of going off against the Lakers on a random night. But if L.A. can contain SGA and force OKC to earn most of their points on the perimeter, then this should be an easy win for them.

And nabbing an easy win should be the main priority of the Lakers on Thursday, because the last thing they want is to allow a bunch of young players take this game to overtime like they did last season. And if all goes well, the squad can head back to L.A. with their first winning streak of the year intact.

Notes and Updates

  • According to Frank Vogel, James’ current ankle injury is not the same one he suffered from last season.
  • Vogel also mentioned that the team will assess how Davis feels overnight after suffering a scary knee tweak on Tuesday.
  • Thunder’s Derrick Favors (rest) was ruled out vs. the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday. The center’s status is also worth keeping an eye on for Wednesday’s match.
  • Around the league, Stephen Curry and Miles Bridges were awarded as the Player of the Week for their corresponding conferences. Meanwhile, the Utah Jazz, Warriors and Denver Nuggets were the top three best teams in this week’s official NBA Power Rankings.

The Lakers and Thunder will tip-off at 5 p.m. PT on Wednesday. The game will only be televised locally on Spectrum SportsNet.

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