The Los Angeles Lakers are in Oklahoma City tonight to take on Russell Westbrook and the Thunder on TNT tonight. The Lakers come into this game without LeBron James and Rajon Rondo. Rondo is still not practicing, while James is cleared to practice and should return within the next four games. Without these two players, the Lakers have gone 4-7. During that time, their second-leading scorer, Kyle Kuzma, was also out for 3 games. The Lakers were 0-3 without Kuzma in that stretch. The Thunder are coming into this game on a little bit of a skid as well. Oklahoma City has lost 4 of their last 5 games including losing big to the Wizards and the Hawks. The Thunder’s season started off very slow and then they turned it around extremely quickly when Westbrook became 100%, so this is really the first lull of the season when this team is at full strength.
Lakers Have a Lot Going On
The Lakers are a really interesting team to break down because there are a lot of different things that can happen with them on a nightly basis. The biggest change recently was the change to the starting lineup that Luke Walton made before their last game. Walton inserted Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Tyson Chandler into the starting lineup over Josh Hart and Javale McGee. Both Hart and McGee are solid defenders in their own right, but KCP and Chandler are elite team defenders. They both possess elite defense instincts, which has propelled the Lakers to the third best defensive efficiency in the NBA since the injuries. Hart and McGee both tended to have lapses in defense that would give up open looks early in the game.
The Lakers have struggled to start in a few of these games when the defense and offense both look off. This change should make these slow starts stop. I also believe that KCP’s addition to the defense helps in this matchup specifically. Lonzo has been praised a lot this season for his defensive pressure, but I still think his best defense is similar to how LeBron plays in the playoffs. He wants to read the eyes of the passer and pick the ball off for a fast break opportunity just like a safety. If KCP can matchup with Westbrook and Lonzo can “defend” whoever the Thunder throw out at the 2 for 30 minutes that doesn’t do anything, I think that the Lakers will force more turnovers because he will be able to roam around and create havoc.
Westbrook May Struggle
This is a pretty bad matchup for Russell Westbrook from a scoring standpoint. In their last matchup, Westbrook had 14 points on 3-20 shooting. Westbrook will see combinations of 3 slightly above average to elite on-ball defenders and two rim-protecting centers. This is basically Russ’s worst nightmare. Westbrook relies on his physical attributes to score more than his skill, and Lonzo is one of the only point guards that Russ can’t bully physically from a size standpoint. This clearly affected him in their last meeting, and I would be pretty surprised to see Russ have a great game here, although he could get there on fast break points, which the Lakers create a lot of for both teams.
Paul George will need to be the main scorer for the Thunder if this game is close. Stopping good shooting wings has been the Lakers’ kryptonite for a while now, and George fits that mold. Kuzma just isn’t good at defense and Ingram is annoying due to his length, but great scorers have never had trouble isolating him. George scored 37 in the last meeting on 29 shots, which I think is really similar to what we see tonight because he will almost definitely have the best matchup for most of the night.
Lakers vs. Thunder Prediction
This number is just too big. The Thunder have been struggling, and this matchup was close just a few weeks ago. Kuzma played less than half of that game, and the Lakers were leading by 1 when he had to come out of the game. Like I mentioned before, this team isn’t the same without LeBron, but this particular group is 4-4. The Lakers’ defense should be more than enough to keep them in this game and I think we are really only a Paul George off night away from having a close game. The Lakers (+10.5) here is a really nice play, and I think I will also dabble in the moneyline at +450.