After a competitive first quarter, the Lakers could not contain the Oklahoma City Thunder. The OKC led by as much as 39 points in their 133-96 victory.
Southland native Paul George and rookie Terrance Ferguson tied with 24 points and three steals. Reigning NBA MVP Russell Westbrook scored 20 points solely on field goals and led in assists with 12.
Forward Kyle Kuzma led the Lakers with 18 points, Larry Nance Jr. had seven rebounds.
Despite outrebounding the Thunder 45 to 44, Oklahoma received a 21-point benefit from the Lakers’ 17 turnovers. Head coach Luke Walton noted how the ball movement of the team needed improvement.
“They have a lot of good individual defenders on that team,” Walton said about the OKC. “If you try to beat them by yourself or go one-on-one or try to over penetrate, they do exactly what they did to us.”
Center Brook Lopez returned to the rotation for the first time since injuring his ankle during the Golden State Warriors game on December 18. He finished the night with 10 points and five rebounds after 16 minutes.
“I feel good. I was just happy to be back out there with the guys battling,” Lopez said. “I love being out there playing with my teammates.”
Lakers hit a 10-2 lead by Kuzma and center Julius Randle. The Thunder struggled with turnovers early, but the speed of Westbrook and the perimeter accuracy of NBA veteran Carmelo Anthony kicked in quickly. Anthony completed an alley-oop to give the OKC the lead. Brook Lopez kept Los Angeles in the game, scoring five points in under one regulated minute. Both teams were tied at 26 at the end of the first period.
Los Angeles began to lose their grip on the game, shooting at 31.8 percent from the field. The Thunder rolled on offense, with a field goal percentage of 66.7 percent in the second quarter. George and Anthony did the bulk of three-point shooting, landing 5-9 combined in the first half. Anthony led all scorers with 21 points by that time. George went on a 7-2 run and made defensive stops with two steals.
Oklahoma City reached a 19-point lead by halftime. George mentioned how the Thunder’s strategy was to slow the gameplay of the Lakers.
“We kept them out the paint,” George said. “The biggest thing is was making shots, not allowing them to play fast and play in transition.
Adams hit a one-handed dunk, pushing the Thunder to 71 early in the third. Kuzma would bring the Lakers to a 20-point deficit with a three-pointer, but Los Angeles could not get within 19 points of Oklahoma. Caldwell-Pope rallied for the Lakers scoring 10 points, shooting 4 of 5 in the field and 2 of 2 during the third quarter. Westbrook gained assists from rookie Ferguson’s shots.
“The thing I was really pleased about was the fact that we had 36 assists,” said Thunder head coach Billy Donovan. “I thought we got off to a good start there in the third quarter, but they all found each other in a lot of different ways and made the game easy for each other.”
By the beginning of the fourth, all Thunder starters had scored in the double-digits. Los Angeles was behind by 28 points and struggled to fill in the gap. Clarkson scored eight points in that period and 11 total points.
“We had no resistance on them on the defensive end, and on the offensive end when things got tough we tried to do it individually,” Kuzma said. “You can’t do that in this league.”
Oklahoma is a strong, playoff-bound team; however, depth could possibly be an issue for them. Eight players score less than five points per game and seven players have yet to score over 10 points this season.
The Lakers will face the Charlotte Hornets on Friday, January 5 at 7:30 P.M.