After playing through flu-like symptoms in a Friday victory over the Dallas Mavericks, LeBron James got the night off in Oklahoma to rest and recover. No matter, the Lakers' win streak now stands at eight games—the longest active winning streak in the league—with Los Angeles squarely in the driver's seat atop the Western Conference.
The team already weathered one massive loss this week with forward Anthony Davis held out against the Mavs because of a gluteus maximus contusion suffered Tuesday. Davis was questionable heading into Saturday night's matchup, ultimately remaining sidelined for the second straight game.
Oklahoma City has now lost two of its last four games after rattling off five straight victories.
- Kyle Kuzma, PF, Lakers: 36 points, seven rebounds
- Rajon Rondo, G, Lakers: 21 points, 12 rebound, eight assists
- Dwight Howard, C, Lakers: 12 points, 14 rebounds
- Danilo Gallinari, PF, Thunder: 24 points, three assists
- Chris Paul, PG, Thunder: 16 points, eight assists
Kuzma can't miss in OKC
The price to acquire Kyle Kuzma increased exponentially after Saturday's performance in OKC.
The Lakers forward has been mentioned in plenty of trade talks over the past few weeks with his performance off the bench making many wonder if he has more to offer. Now it's impossible to deny.
Kuzma started the game by rattling off 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting and finished the night plus-20 on the court with four three-pointers in 40 minutes.
He was as unstoppable as he was unrelenting.
Case-in-point: With two minutes left, and the game pretty much decided, Kuzma found himself with a mismatch against Thunder guard Dennis Schroder, quickly backing him down into the paint before spinning into a fadeaway jumper. No matter who OKC threw at him, Kuzma made it seem like a mistake.
That's now two straight games where the Utah product has set a season high after dropping 26 points against the Mavs on Friday.
For a Lakers team with title aspirations, it's the type of depth teams can't afford to make a playoff run without. For all other contenders, it's a reminder of what they don't have—and what they'll have a hard time convincing Los Angeles to part with.
Reality check for Thunder
With all the hype surrounding the Thunder the past few games, it'd be easy to anoint them as a dark-horse title contender. Saturday night showed that notion is still a bit premature.
As talented as OKC is, the loss to the Lakers proves just how much further the team has to go to maintain success in the Western Conference. Granted, it's hard not to feel extra confident after beating the Houston Rockets before taking on a team that's missing its two best players, but the lack of follow-through is concerning.
Allowing Los Angeles to come into Chesapeake Energy Arena and shoot above 60 percent in the first quarter while taking a 41-19 lead should've been the first sign something was amiss.
Then Chris Paul could only muster two field goals in the first half with just three assists—and even worse, OKC made just 13.3 percent of its three-point attempts, an area that's already a weak spot for the Thunder.
Oklahoma City is good enough to play with any team in the league. It's not good enough to do so while taking nights off.
Saturday was another reminder of the latter.
With a two-game road trip complete, the Lakers head home to face the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday followed by a Wednesday matchup with the Orlando Magic. Both games appear winnable on paper, but Los Angeles will need a healthy Davis and James back soon with a five-game road trip set to start next Saturday in Houston.
Meanwhile, the Thunder will head to Minneapolis on Monday to face a Minnesota Timberwolves team that's evolved defensively over the past few weeks. The T-Wolves own the second-best defensive efficiency rating in the NBA over the last 10 games (100.6), which could cause trouble for a middling OKC offense that ranks in the bottom third of the league.
This article will be updated to provide more information on this story as it becomes available.
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