In the midst of their best stretch since 2013, the Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder will match up for the final time this season on Thursday.
Despite the nearly one-month absence of rookie Lonzo Ball, the Lakers are 11-4 over their last 15 games — good for second-best record in the NBA during the span — and are seemingly firing on all cylinders.
The Lakers made headlines earlier in the day with the stunning trade of Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. to the Cleveland Cavaliers in return for Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and a 2018 first-round draft pick.
Los Angeles cleared further salary in the trade to set themselves up for the potential pursuit of two maximum contracts this summer. Ironically, they’ll host one of their top free agent targets in Paul George, who received a roaring ovation from Lakers fans during their previous matchup at Staples Center.
The blockbuster deal will consequently leave the Lakers with a short bench for their matchup against the Thunder, but Oklahoma City faces some questions of their own. The Thunder are without the services of Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony, because of respective ankle injuries.
Los Angeles is 1-2 this season against Oklahoma City, but picked up an impressive road victory against them on Super Bowl Sunday.
Rookie guard Josh Hart, who supplanted Tyler Ennis in the starting lineup, enjoyed one of the finest games of his young career, posting a double-double behind 14 points and 11 rebounds in 39 minutes.
Brook Lopez additionally complemented the Lakers offense with 20 points, while Julius Randle followed suit with 19 of his own points. Brandon Ingram, who filled in at point guard, stuffed the stat sheet with 16 points, five rebounds and five assists.
Three Keys To Lakers Victory
Contain Paul George: George figures to be in line for an even heavier usage rate with Westbrook and Anthony ruled out for the contest, meaning George will be the focal point of the Thunder’s offense.
Keep Pushing Forward: The Lakers have meshed well together since the start of the new year, both on-and-off the court. While the departures of Clarkson and Nance will deplete the bench, the Lakers must chug forward and continue playing as one — and not allowing the blockbuster trade to disrupt their chemistry.
Build On Recent Free Throw Success: Los Angeles sunk 23 of 26 free throw attempts in their latest win against the Phoenix Suns — easily one of their best performances at the line this season.
Oklahoma City ranks 21st in personal fouls per game, meaning the Lakers should have plenty of opportunities to sink their free throws again on Thursday. With a short bench, this will be crucial in their attempt to once again upset the playoff-bound Thunder.
Los Angeles Lakers (22-31) Vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (31-24):
7:30 P.M. PST, February 8, 2018
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Brandon Ingram
SG: Josh Hart
SF: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
PF: Julius Randle
C: Brook Lopez
Key Reserves: Kyle Kuzma, Corey Brewer, Tyler Ennis, Alex Caruso
Projected Thunder Starting Lineup:
PG: Raymond Felton
SG: Terrence Ferguson
SF: Paul George
PF: Jerami Grant
C: Steven Adams
Key Reserves: Jerami Grant, Raymond Felton, Alex Abrines, Patrick Patterson