Oklahoma City Thunder versus Los Angeles Lakers: Can the Lakers compete without LeBron James in the lineup?


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Oaklahoma City Thunder

The Oaklahoma City Thunder continue to battle the Warriors and Nuggets in the NBA's Western Conference, sitting just a game behind the leaders. They enter their game against the LA Lakers at 23-13 and a solid 10-9 on the road. In Los Angeles, the Lakers are 1-2 since the injury to LeBron James, 21-16 overall and losers of six of their last ten games. 

The two teams have split the last six meetings and the Thunder enter the game as a 2 1/2 point road favorite, despite the Lakers having a 13-6 record at home. The biggest disparity in the teams is defensively. Oklahoma City is ranked fourth in fewest points allowed per game, while the Lakers are just 24th.  Both teams are good on the boards, with the Thunder second in the league. Sloppy ball handling is the norm for both squads, ranking near the bottom in turnovers. The negatives are likely to be more prominent for the Lakers with James out of the lineup.

Oklahoma City has a very balance unit lead by the two-headed monster in Russell Westbrook and Paul George. Westbrook is averaging a triple-double at 21 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists per game. George can get hot from long range, hitting nearly 39 percent from beyond the arc and averages over 26 points per game. Steven Adams hits the boards at the rate of 10 per game and adds almost 16 points a game. Dennis Shroder and Jerami Grant combine for 28 per game to complete a deep squad.

The most troubling aspect for the Lakers at the moment is how to make up for the 27 points, eight rebounds and seven assists that James bring to the table every game. Clearly, no one player can do it, but perhaps Kyle Kuzman (18.7 points) and Brandon Ingram (16 points) can pick up some of the scoring slack. JaValle McGee will have to do better than his 6.8 rebounds per game. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Josh Hart are capable from long range. Point guard Lonzo Ball has to improve on his poor shooting, hitting just 41 percent overall from the floor and 49 percent from the free throw line.

The Thunder being a favorite over the Lakers are home would normally be surprising with the teams just a couple games apart in the standings. This it the James factor. The over/under on this one is 229 1/2 and we could see the over on this one. The Lakers will be capable of being competitive for a while, but the Thunder has too much firepower and will walk away with the win, pulling away late.

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