The Lakers’ three-game road trip concludes tomorrow as they head to their final stop in Oklahoma City to face the Thunder. This is an important game for both teams, both of whom won’t have their best players available. While Oklahoma currently leads the season matchup (1-0), this is the perfect opportunity for the Lakers to leapfrog them in the standings — where they’re both currently tied — and stay within play-in territory range.
Since Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — who is also now in health and safety protocols — suffered knee and abdominal injuries, the Thunder have struggled as of late. They’ve lost four straight games and are nowhere close to the team they’ve been all year with SGA in the lineup, playing at an All-Star level. With, or more likely, without LeBron James, this is a very winnable game for the Lakers and frankly one they have to treat as a must-win (yet another time this season, I know I sound like a broken record at this point).
That said, even if it’s a very winnable game, the Lakers are going to be challenged offensively as we saw in Tuesday night’s loss against the Grizzlies. LA turned the ball over 26 times, leading to 41 Grizzlies points. That’s not really a surprise considering two of their primary ball handlers in James and D’Angelo Russell are out, but they need to learn to combat that by getting their threes to fall. The Lakers’ perimeter shooting will be a huge x-factor with James out indefinitely, and it’ll be up to Malik Beasley, Austin Reaves, Dennis Schroder and the rest to lead the way.
The Lakers may not be able to replace James’ production, but their depth has to lead the way moving forward. The good news is that Tuesday’s game vs. the Grizzlies was arguably their hardest one in the next two weeks, and considering they were able to hang with them for the most part (until Ja Morant took over), the Lakers should have a fighting chance in all the must-win games they’re about to walk into, even without LeBron.
Wednesday’s tilt versus the Shai-less Thunder will say a lot about the direction of this team, and whether or not their odds of surviving life without James in the meantime will be in their favor.
Notes and Updates
- No injury report has been released yet for either team, as they both played the front end of a back-to-back on Tuesday night. Although for the Lakers, expect D’Angelo Russell (ankle sprain) to be out and obviously James (right foot soreness) to be out.
- As mentioned above, Gilgeous-Alexander (health and safety protocols) won't suit up.
- Russell, who has now missed two straight games, could reportedly return against his former team the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday per ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne. This is obviously good news for the purple and gold, who will desperately rely on Russell’s services as James recovers.
- For news around the league, the Milwaukee Bucks have extended their winning streak to 15 after tonight’s victory against the Brooklyn Nets (and did not lose a game in the whole month of February). In the process, they also just dethroned the Boston Celtics for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Suffice it to say, they’re clearly the hottest team in the league right now.
The Lakers and Thunder will tip off earlier than usual, on Wednesday at 5 p.m. PT. The game will be televised locally on Spectrum Sportsnet.
You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani.