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Lakers vs. Thunder Preview: Play-in sneak peek?

After two straight wins, the Lakers will look to keep this train to the play-in going with a win against a team trying to do the same: The Oklahoma City Thunder.

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

After an upsetting, buzzer-beater loss suffered at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks, the Los Angeles Lakers have righted the ship with two straight wins against the Magic and Suns.

Sadly, those two wins haven’t fully cleaned out the bad taste in the mouths of Lakers fans, as that game against the Mavericks was bigger than just being another loss. That’s due to the ninth-seeded Mavs being one of the teams jostling with the 10th-seeded Lakers for a spot in the play-in tournament.

If the Lakers really want to put that brutal loss in the rear-view mirror, they’ll have a shot at redemption in the form of a game vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night. Heading into Thursday’s night of NBA action, the Thunder sat in the 8th seed in the Western Conference with the Lakers only half a game back of them.

The Lakers will hope to secure a win to continue boosting their odds of making the postseason, while we fans of both teams may get a sneak peak at a possible play-in matchup in a couple of weeks.

Here’s what else to look out for in this primetime matchup.

Battle of young guards

Let’s be honest... who is better? Shai Gilgeous-Alexander or Austin Reaves?

Before the free-throw conspiracy theorists on Twitter (and/or up in the Bay area) come for me, please realize that I’m joking.

But on a serious note, this game will feature some of the best and most exciting young guards in the NBA in Reaves, SGA, Josh Giddey, Jalen Williams and D’Angelo Russell (I hope I’m still allowed to call the 27-year-old Russell “young”).

And in each player’s last five games, respectively, guess who has been getting the most buckets? Well, no, it’s not Reaves. It’s SGA, who is averaging 33.8 points per game in that stretch as he continues his All-NBA-caliber season. But Reaves has managed 22.8 PPG over that span, which is ahead of Russell’s 18.0, Williams’ 16.8, and Giddey’s 14.4.

If Darvin Ham continues to have Reaves in the starting lineup after deploying him there against the Suns, he’ll see some combination of SGA, Williams, and/or Giddey guarding him often. If I had to bet money, I’d be much more confident in Jarred Vanderbilt — the Lakers’ new wing-stopper — being able to slow down SGA than I would be in those two Thunder guards being able to stop Reaves, who continues to live at the charity stripe.

If the Lakers can win the overall matchup at the guard position, then look out. With the Thunder on the second night of a back-to-back and a 6’9 Jaylin Williams matched up with Anthony Davis in the two teams’ starting lineups, the Lakers could find themselves winning big. And in doing so, getting closer to securing a spot in the postseason.

Notes and Updates

  • No surprises on the Lakers’ injury report for this game. LeBron James (right foot soreness) and Mo Bamba (left ankle sprain) will remain out with their injuries. As usual, Anthony Davis is listed as probable (right foot stress injury) while Scotty Pippen Jr. and Cole Swider will be with the G-League team.
  • After this story was initially published, the Lakers added D’Angelo Russell (right hip soreness) to the injury report, initially downgrading him to questionable before ruling him out entirely.
  • On Thursday, it was reported by some of the most reliable reporters in the NBA that LeBron James was targeting a return for the final three games of the regular season. I point out the reporters’ credibility, as LeBron swiftly disputed the sourcing of said reports. But while there may not have been an evaluation on Thursday, as we all know, where there’s smoke there’s fire, and so hopefully, those reports end up coming true.
  • With the Thunder playing the Clippers on Thursday night, their injury report for this game has not been released. For that aforementioned game, Kenrich Williams (left wrist surgery), Alexsej Pokusevski (G-League assignment), and Chet Holmgren (right foot surgery) were all out.

The Lakers will take on the Thunder in Los Angeles at 7:30 p.m. PT, and the game will be televised on Spectrum SportsNet.

You can follow Donny on Twitter at @donny_mchenry.

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