Russell Westbrook Dominant as Thunder Cruise Past LeBron James-Less Lakers

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorApril 3, 2019

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK- APRIL 2: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder drives to the basket against the Los Angeles Lakers on April 2, 2019 at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images)
Jeff Haynes/Getty Images

Russell Westbrook posted the first 20-point, 20-rebound, 20-assist triple-double in 51 years as the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Los Angeles Lakers 119-103 on Tuesday at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City.

Westbrook contributed 20 points, 21 assists and 20 rebounds for the 45-33 Thunder. Per the TNT broadcast, he joined Wilt Chamberlain as one of two NBA players to ever earn a 20-point, 20-assist, 20-rebound triple-double.

Rob Perez of Action Network reported that Chamberlain last did so on Feb. 2, 1968.

Jerami Grant added 22 points, and Paul George had 19 points and five steals.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 23 points for the 35-43 Lakers, who were without LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball.

Depth, Three-Point Shooting Limit OKC's Playoff Ceiling

Is there a playoff team with a larger gap between their ceiling and floor than the Thunder?

On the positive end, how surprising would it be if the Thunder rolled to the Western Conference Finals as, say, a No. 7 seed that potentially avoids the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors until the third round?

They could even pick off the Warriors in the postseason if Westbrook fills up the stat sheet and George dominates on both ends as he's become accustomed to doing.

On the negative end, the Thunder have two significant issues, and both present problems toward achieving that ceiling.

Both reared their heads Tuesday.

The Thunder beat the Lakers despite their reserves being outscored 44-30 and the entire team shooting just 13-of-44 from three-point range.

Of course, Westbrook's monster night helped, and George was routinely a problem for the Lakers offense thanks to his five steals.

However, limited depth and poor three-point shooting have been the Thunder's Achilles' heels all year, and there isn't much reason to believe that will change in the postseason after watching Oklahoma City see its 18-point second-half lead evaporate to five against the short-handed Lakers with 6:30 remaining.

Per NBA.com, the Thunder bench is 28th in offensive rating, 27th in assist/turnover ratio, 20th in net rating, and last in effective field-goal percentage and true-shooting percentage.

Dennis Schroder is the only Thunder player averaging six or more points per game off the bench, and he's struggling through the worst statistical season of his career since his rookie campaign in 2013-14. Per Basketball Reference, his below-average 12.5 player efficiency rating (15.0 is average) is his worst mark since 2014.

Furthermore, in a league where teams are living and dying by the three-pointer, Oklahoma City is somehow surviving despite its low marks. The Thunder rank 23rd in three-point percentage: No team below them on the list is headed to the playoffs this year.

In addition, the league-average three-point shooting rate is 35.5 percent, per Basketball Reference. Only three players (Grant, George and Ferguson) eclipse that mark, with no one hitting more than 38.8 percent.

Oklahoma City is just 8-14 over its past 22 games, so the team has been playing closer to its floor of late.

However, this team also went 11-1 in the 12 games before its recent cold stretch. If the bench steps up and the Thunder start knocking down more shots, we could see them playing basketball into June.

                    

What's Next?

The Lakers will host the Warriors on Thursday at Staples Center in Los Angeles, and the Thunder will welcome the Detroit Pistons into Oklahoma City on Friday.

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