Thunder vs. Lakers Takeaways
To say the Los Angeles Lakers struggled last night would be an understatement. They never led in an eventual 105–86 defeat to the Oklahoma City Thunder. So was last night’s loss more about the Thunder’s performance, or the Lakers’ flaws?
While Oklahoma City has been a pleasant surprise this season, there’s no mistaking it, this loss falls on the Lakers’ weaknesses. Yes OKC has one of better defensive units in the NBA. They allow the eighth-fewest points per game, and hold opponents to the second-lowest three-point percentage. That however, is no excuse for the number one seed in the West to score only 86 points.
Some may say that this is an overreaction to one poor game by Los Angeles. I on the other hand, believe this is more of a trend than an anomaly. In last night’s game against the Thunder, LA’s weak spots were highlighted.
First, the Lakers inability to make three-pointers is apparent. Last night, Los Angeles went a pathetic 5–37 from three-point range (13.5%). Now every game won’t be that bad for LA. It however, likely won’t get much better. This season, the Lakers have the eighth-lowest three-point percentage in the NBA. The roster just isn’t full of shooters, especially with Danny Green in a slump. That lack of three-point shot making could cause some problems come playoff time.
The second weakness on LA’s team also showed against the Thunder. Last night, the Lakers made 19–29 free throws, good for 65.5%. That’s a recipe for losing games. Last night wasn’t the first time LA has struggled from the free throw line either. This season, the Lakers have the third-worst free throw percentage in the league. Much like with their three-point shooting, Los Angeles just hasn’t been able to find their rhythm at the free throw line. This especially could be an issue late in games considering four of their main contributors shoot below 75% at the line (Lebron, Kuzma, Danny Green, JaVale McGee). If the Lakers aren’t able to close out games at the free throw line, they could be in for many unnecessarily close endings.
The absence of Avery Bradley become highlighted in last night’s game as well. After Bradley opted-out of the NBA restart, questions arose about whether or not Los Angeles would be able to stop opposing teams’ guards. Well, the answer so far isn’t leaning in the Lakers’ favor. Chris Paul was able to control the game at will last night. He finished with 21 points on 8–12 shooting. He also had a +/- of +25, and often looked like the best player on the floor. No one on LA’s roster could bother OKC’s point guard. This wasn’t the first time a guard controlled the game against the Lakers in the bubble either. In a 107–92 loss to the Raptors last weekend, Kyle Lowry dominated. He finished with 33 points, and even secured 14 rebounds. Avery Bradley was LA’s defensive stopper for guards. Without him the Lakers are left with a void. His absence, coupled with a first round matchup with Damian Lillard looking more and more likely, could spell some serious trouble for Los Angeles.
Finally, last night highlighted the Anthony Davis problem for the Lakers. Now you might be wondering how Davis would be a problem for Los Angeles. Don’t get me wrong, on his good nights Davis is one of the most dominant players in the league. On his bad nights though, he disappears. The game against OKC was a prime example. Davis finished with nine points, eight rebounds, and zero blocks. He was outplayed handily by guys who shouldn’t be on his level, such as Steven Adams (18 points) and Danilo Gallinari (19 points).
Then comes the fourth quarter issue with Anthony Davis.
Davis has shown a history of underperforming in the fourth quarter of games, especially in crucial ones such as matchups with the Clippers. This season, in four games against the Clippers Anthony Davis has a total of 10 fourth quarter points. A number which averages out to just 2.5 points per game in the fourth quarter. When the Lakers need Davis to take over in the fourth, he often fails. Los Angeles however, will need Davis to change that if they have any hopes of winning an NBA championship.
So while last night’s loss against the Thunder may have been just one game, it highlighted some serious flaws with the Lakers. This is also troublesome considering Oklahoma City wasn’t even at their best. Their rising star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander only had 13 points. They were missing sixth man of the year candidate Dennis Schroder. The Thunder also only shot 20.8% from three, and finished with more turnovers than the Lakers. Yet LA’s problems were still more abundant. The Lakers’ issues will be difficult to fix on the fly. It’ll be interesting to see if Los Angeles is able to overcome them come playoff time.