With 2 starters and a total of 3 front court players down and currently out, plus 1 back up point guard, it would have been nothing short of a minor NBA miracle if the Lakers beat Oklahoma City on Friday night. Like Phil Jackson coaching the Lakers.
The Thunder have proven this season that they are not the type of team that comes out flat. OKC comes out and plays hard every night, not a characteristic ascribed to most of the top teams in the NBA over the last decade, or the Lakers this season.
Kevin Durant’s 42 point effort was further evidence of OKC not letting off. Squaring off against the NBA’s leading scorer at 37 years of age, Kevin Durant had no problem showing why he was the 3 time NBA leading scorer and lead his team to the NBA finals last season. He shot 16-25 from the field, and was +35 for the game. In fact all of the Thunder’s starters, including Russell “I think this is my team until Durant scores 42” Westbrook with 27 points, were at least +19 for the evening.
The Lakers honestly had no shot in this game. The Thunder are one of the top scoring teams in the league. They have only lost a single game when scoring over 100 points this season. Barring catastrophic injuries. natural disasters, or a shooting slump worse than Wiley Coyote’s cold streak chasing the Road Runner, OKC would easily exceed 100. The Lakers allowed 103 points to Philly, 107 to the Clips, 112 to Denver, 125 to Houston, only 108 to San Antonio, and now 116 points to OKC in consecutive games during their 6 game losing streak. Impressively for the Lakers, and worryingly for the Thunder the Lakers scored over 100 points for the 5th consecutive night though.
After being buried on the bench all season, Coach D’Antoni put Earl Clark in the starting lineup Friday after hi impressive outing Wednesday. D’Antoni at least temporarily bailed on the inefficient Darius Morris on the floor to begin the game. Clark played well once again and proved that he belongs with the first-teamers. He was -17 on the game, the best mark for almost 36 minutes of any of the Lakers starters, and pulled down 10 boards to match his 10 points.
The Lakers were bad enough with Dwight and Pau this year. Without them, the Lakers are trying to pass as an NBA franchise while still featuring 2 of the NBA’s All time best players
For all of the talk that old guys win in the NBA, these Lakers believed it a little too much. Their injuries are excuses enough, but their effort is questionable. Kevin Garnett is an old guy. He has been playing in the NBA for 18 years straight out of high school, but his effort level does not look like Vlade Divac flopping against Shaq. He still out-hustles, rebounds, and plays much younger players. The hustle and grit of this Lakers team is not always there, nor does not complement their aging stars, or improve their chemistry at this point in the Lakers season. I still want to call it a young season, but they are 5 games removed from the halfway point of the 82 game regular season.
The season has been ongoing since October, but if the Lakers don’t start to play like the season starts now, it is going to end very quickly.