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Lakers vs. Thunder Preview: Can L.A. finally beat OKC?

If the Lakers want to get their first win against the Thunder, they will have to start with their defense — something that wasn’t quite present in their first two meetings against OKC.

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

The Lakers will face the Oklahoma City Thunder for the third time this season on Friday night, with the latest matchup coming on the second night of a back-to-back in what was previously expected to be a trap game. Now, however, this game feels extra vital for the Lakers to win after humiliating themselves vs. the Grizzlies on Thursday.

The Lakers can’t turn the ball over the way they did on Thursday. They can’t allow their opponent to out-hustle and outperform them for the second night in a row. And more importantly, someone other than LeBron James has to show up on Friday.

Because on paper, this might not seem like a tough opponent, but do we really trust the Lakers to keep a lead against the rebuilding team after what happened in their first two meetings against the Thunder? Probably not, but if the purple and gold want to win it has to start with their defense, and Oklahoma City (on paper) is an opponent they should be able to stop.

The Thunder are ranked dead last in points per game (with the offensive rating of 100.3 per 100 possessions) in the league. They’re also at the bottom of the league in 3-point percentage (30.9%). The Lakers have to make sure all that continues by getting stops and converting their defense to offense in Friday’s game.

If L.A. can defend the way they did in the clips above and below for most of the game, then there’s a great chance that they end their latest road trip on a positive note. But that level of defense was completely missing on Thursday night, and in their first two disastrous losses against the Thunder.

OKC does not move the ball well on offense (they rank 30th in the league) so the Lakers’ isolation defense will have to be extra sharp especially against rookie standout Josh Giddey and future All-Star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

It’s going to be tricky to do all these things on the second night of a back-to-back when energy is running low, but the Lakers have proven they can win these types of games on the road (just like the one vs. the Indiana Pacers last month). It would also really help if the purple and gold remember how they choked not once but twice against this OKC team in a span of a month so they can come out with more motivation to get a better result this time.

Speaking of the first two games against the Thunder, what’s going to be different with this Lakers team on Friday is that DeAndre Jordan is (probably) no longer a starter and that LeBron James and Talen Horton-Tucker will be in the lineup. And unlike in November, the Lakers will have to make sure that they don’t get out-rebounded, outscored, outworked by a team filled with rookies that probably don’t fear them at all. Oh, and not turning the ball over the way they did vs. Memphis would help too.

So hopefully the Lakers can make up for their first two losses to the Thunder with a dominant victory on Friday. They’re currently sitting at the seventh place of the Western Conference standings so they can’t really afford to once again fool around and drop these types of winnable games for two straight day in a row.

The last thing they want is to go to overtime or lose to a mediocre-to-bad team for the second straight night in a row. As Lakers legend James Worthy said in a memorable post-loss rant following one of their prior losses to OKC, L.A. can’t have the mentality where they expect their opponents to fear them. Not with the way they’ve played so far. They actually have to find ways to dominate these teams from the get-go until the final buzzer, not in spurts. So if the Lakers once again allow OKC to outwork them for the third game in a row, then Worthy will probably head to Oklahoma, kick these guys off the team plane, and put them on a greyhound bus back to L.A. himself.

Notes and Updates

  • Frank Vogel said that Trevor Ariza, who hasn’t played this season due to an ankle injury, may go practice with the South Bay Lakers in the G League before he finally sees action for the purple and gold this season, so it seems he is close to a return.
  • Kendrick Nunn (right bone bruise) will be out for Friday’s game.
  • Vogel also called out the team’s “casualness” approach for Thursday’s game against the Grizzlies. This is alarming and something that should be highlighted because it’s been a reoccurring theme with this team throughout the season. Hopefully this won’t be the case in Friday’s game.
  • The Thunder are currently 8-16 and have only won six games since they last faced the Lakers. Yes, two of their eight wins have been against the Lakers.

The Lakers and Thunder will tip off in Oklahoma City at 5 p.m. PT on Friday. The game will 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.

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