Five numbers to set the stage as the Thunder (31-24) prepare to take on the Lakers (22-31) for the fourth and final time this season:
The Lakers have a net rating of +1.1 during their last 10 games, per Cleaning the Glass, meaning they out score their opponents by about 1 point every 100 possessions. They’re 7-3 during that stretch and 1-1 against OKC. A team with a +1.1 differential would be expected to win 44 games over the course of a full season. The Lakers record on the year as a whole is a weak 22-31, but over the last 10 games they’ve performed like a borderline playoff team. OKC should treat them as such in preparation.
A major problem for OKC this season (you may have heard this before) is they don’t play any better against bad teams than they do against good ones. They’re 17-14 against teams with a winning record and 14-10 against teams with a losing record. Compare that to the Spurs, who actually have a losing record (13-15) against teams over .500, but have dominated teams under .500, which is why they’re 3 games ahead of OKC in the standings. Wins like Tuesday’s against Golden State are huge and exciting, but if the Thunder want to catch the Spurs by the time the playoffs come, they need to take care of business against bad teams. Tonight would be a great time to start.
Jordan Clarkson is averaging 18.1 points per game during the Lakers last 10 games, tied with Julius Randle for the best mark on the team. However, Clarkson was traded to the Cavs today (YEESH, as LeBron would say) meaning the Lakers will need to find scoring from elsewhere. The Lakers took back Isaiah Thomas in the trade, but he won’t suit up tonight. With Lonzo Ball already out, the Lakers are down another capable ball handler. If the Thunder are locked in defensively, the Lakers may simply have no way to generate points. Of note, however, is that this game is in Los Angeles, coming off a night off for OKC and a big victory over the warriors. There’s a chance the Thunder come into this game with a hangover in more than one sense.
The Lakers have shot 68.8% at the rim during their last 10 games, which is just behind Cleveland (68.9%) for the best mark in the league over that stretch. Normally that’s no problem for the Thunder with a rim protector like Steven Adams, but Adams will be covering Brook Lopez for most of the game, a center with legitimate 3 point range; last time around, Lopez canned 4 of his 9 attempts from deep against OKC. How Adams navigates defending Lopez at the arc while still sliding to help is key; how well the other players on the floor do at taking away drives from the rim when Adams isn’t there to clean up their mistakes is also something to watch. If the Thunder want to make a deep playoff push, they’ll need to overcome teams like the Rockets and Warriors who also like to play five-out lineups that can draw Adams out of the paint.
That’s how many minutes Jerami Grant played against the Warriors on Tuesday night. While Josh Huestis got the start in place of Andre Roberson, it was Grant who had the biggest impact outside the Fab Four- with Carmelo Anthony leaving early from injury and Steven Adams in foul trouble, Grant came up big, playing excellent defense against one of the best teams in the NBA and adding 16 big points on only 8 shot attempts.
Grant has his flaws — his 3 point shooting is as bad as Roberson’s, he’s only so-so at the line, and he’s not much of a playmaker. But he’s long, quick, and hustles like hell on defense, and on offense he’s added enough versatility to his game to be a real scoring threat, and developed a nice chemistry with Russ in the pick and roll. No one has done more to the fill the hole left by Roberson’s injury. In my opinion he’s earned a shot at starting, but if Donovan elects to stick with Huestis, Grant should still get big minutes off the bench.
That’s Carmelo Anthony’s net rating this season, per Cleaning the Glass — when he plays, the Thunder out score their opponents by 5.8 points. When he sits, the Thunder’s net rating is -0.5. Melo has not shot the ball particularly well this season- 45.1% on 2 pointers, which is poor, 34.7% on 3 pointers, which is average, and he hasn’t gotten to the foul line much. He’s never been a stalwart defensively. Yet his net rating is still good! As we saw Tuesday night when Melo left early in the first quarter against the Warriors, the Thunder can still play great without him. The defense looked better, frankly, without him, and Russell Westbrook and Paul George both got supernova hot on offense, so Melo’s point production was more than made up for. Melo is questionable to play tonight with that same ankle injury. If he doesn’t suit up, it’ll be interesting to see how the Thunder fare without him.