The Los Angeles Lakers, on the second night of a back-to-back, head to Oklahoma to take on the Thunder. After a slow start to the season, Oklahoma City has gone 16-5 since Thanksgiving, which is the best record in the conference since that date. Los Angeles has started 2-0 on the season against the Thunder. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for them, but veterans like Chris Paul and Danilo Gallinari have been great for them throughout this stretch, with the Thunder now sitting at 7th in the standings and comfortably in the playoff picture.
The greatest strength of this iteration of the Thunder has been their ability to score in crunch time. Chris Paul leads the NBA in clutch scoring by a wide margin this season, as he’s remained an absolute general on the floor, eviscerating opponents in the pick and roll and has lived in the mid-range. This is also a deep team, as displayed in their emotional dismantling of the Houston Rockets on Thursday night, with 5 players scoring in double digits and contributions coming on both ends of the ball coming from all ends of the roster.
One key player to watch is third-year man Terrance Ferguson. He’s been their three and D ace, and that was on show on Thursday where he held James Harden to 17 points on 17 shots. He’s not particularly built, so it’s hard to imagine him guarding LeBron on an island, and certainly not Anthony Davis (should he play). Another player to watch is second-year stud Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. He was the crown jewel of the Paul George trade this offseason, and he looks like he could very well be an All-Star very shortly. He’s a deadly finisher around the rim thanks to his length and soft touch, and he’s a viable (if not deadly) threat from outside.
Los Angeles’ bench unit has been very hot and cold all season, but they’re going to need them to perform well with Dennis Schroder making a case to be 6th Man of the Year this season, as he’s averaging 18.5 points per game off the bench. Look for Vogel to throw several different looks at him to throw him off his rhythm.
Another key area for Los Angeles will be stopping Oklahoma City’s vaunted small-ball lineup of Paul, Schroder, SGA, Gallinari, and Adams. That unit is the number one ranked lineup in all of basketball this season. With that lineup, OKC has blitzed opponents because they provide strength in all areas–defensively, shooting, rebounding, and inside scoring–and it’s one that Billy Donovan likes to run out to close games, hence OKC’s rating as the second best 4th quarter team in the league (net rating of 8.1). Luckily, the Lakers are just behind them in that category, so if it’s a close game it’s going to make for a fascinating watch.
Los Angeles vs Oklahoma City is scheduled for a 5:00 PST tip. Follow us at Lakers Outsiders on twitter for more updates.