LeBron James, Anthony Davis Struggle as Lakers Fall to Chris Paul, Thunder

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorAugust 6, 2020

Oklahoma City Thunder's Chris Paul attempts a lay up against the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo via AP)
Kevin C. Cox/Associated Press

Chris Paul posted 21 points, seven rebounds and six assists as the Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 105-86 in a low-scoring defensive battle Wednesday at ESPN's Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Florida.

The Thunder took a 26-18 lead after one quarter and never trailed as they cruised to the 19-point win.

The Lakers went ice cold from the field, shooting 35.2 percent overall and 5-of-37 from three-point range. Oklahoma City notably struggled from beyond the arc as well (5-of-24), but Paul dominated while leading OKC to its second win in three seeding games during the NBA's restart. 

All five Thunder starters scored in double digits. LeBron James led the Lakers with 19 points and 11 boards.

L.A., which has already clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs, fell to 51-16 overall and 2-2 in the restart. OKC is 42-25, good enough for a tie for fifth with the Houston Rockets in the West. The Thunder have already clinched a playoff berth.


Notable Performances

Thunder PG Chris Paul: 21 PTS, 7 REB, 6 AST

Thunder G Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: 13 PTS, 7 REB, 5 AST, 3 STL

Thunder F Danilo Gallinari: 19 PTS, 7 REB

Lakers G/F LeBron James: 19 PTS, 11 REB, 4 AST

Lakers F/C Anthony Davis: 9 PTS, 8 REB, 5 AST

Lakers G Dion Waiters: 14 PTS


OKC Continues Storybook Season

The Oklahoma City Thunder lost two All-Stars and perennial All-NBA members in Russell Westbrook and Paul George last offseason.

They got one back in the Westbrook trade in the form of ex-Houston Rockets point guard Chris Paul, but expectations were naturally low for a team expected to finish outside the playoff picture.

That hasn't come close to happening, though, as the Thunder continued to look strong on both ends with a 19-point win over the top-seeded Lakers.

All five Thunder starters scored in double digits. They routinely got to the free-throw line and excelled with a 32-of-36 mark. And OKC dominated defensively, holding the Lakers to just 18 first-quarter points and setting the tone for the rest of the game.

OKC, at 42-25, has a higher winning percentage than last year's 49-33 team. The Thunder are well-balanced and are one of 10 teams to rank top-12 in offensive and defensive efficiency, per ESPN.com.

That balance was on full display during a third-quarter play that started with some great hustle on the defensive end and ended with a Paul layup:

OKC THUNDER @okcthunder

Hold your ground. Defense ➡️ Offense. @luguentz | @CP3 | #ThunderUp https://t.co/6fpUsYKuxP

Paul, who starred Thursday, has been the catalyst in his 15th NBA season. He entered the night averaging 17.8 points on an efficient 49.1 percent shooting clip, in addition to 6.8 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 1.5 steals per contest.

He's the team's leader on and off the court, as evidenced Thursday:

OKC THUNDER @okcthunder

Chris Paul busy on the court. Also busy leading from the sidelines. @CP3 | #ThunderUp https://t.co/Olkw9nScVc

Five Thunder players score 11 or more points per game, but none of them post 20 or more per night. The bench runs deep with an array of guards, wings and bigs who can cause teams problems, like Hamidou Diallo, who can jump out of a gym:

OKC THUNDER @okcthunder

Throw it down Hami ‼️ @hamidoudiallo | #ThunderUp https://t.co/xIG3kk8Yc5

And they've caused a serious problem for the league's best teams, defeating the Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers and Toronto Raptors, all of whom rank in the top three in either the Eastern or Western Conferences.

The Lakers added their name to that list Thursday, etching another chapter in a remarkable season for OKC. The question now is how far this team can go when it enters the gauntlet that will be the Western Conference playoffs, but the Thunder have certainly held their own thus far.


Lakers' Restart Struggles Continue, But There's No Need To Panic

The Lakers clinched the Western Conference's No. 1 seed with a victory over the Utah Jazz earlier this week, so their primary goal isn't necessarily to go all-out and win the rest of their seeding games.

Most importantly, the Lakers need to stay healthy prior to the playoffs, where they'll have the opportunity to return to the NBA Finals for the first time in 10 years.

Riding into the playoffs with some positive momentum can only be beneficial, too, although the restart has seen some uneven performances from the Purple and Gold.

A hard-fought win over the Los Angeles Clippers started the Lakers' Disney World run, but the offense fell flat, and the defense couldn't stop Kyle Lowry in a 15-point defeat to the Toronto Raptors.

L.A. bounced back with a 116-108 win versus the Utah Jazz, but then another double-digit loss, this time to the Thunder, dropped the Lakers to 2-2 in Orlando.

Is it time to panic? Not really, even if the team's sputtering offense and inability to slow down opposing point guards is cause for concern. The offense has actually been the league's worst this summer, per StatMuse:

StatMuse @statmuse

The Lakers are averaging the fewest points per game and shooting the worst out of any team in the bubble. 99.3 PPG 39.8 FG% 25.2 3P% The second lowest marks are 105.0 PPG (Wizards), 42.0 FG% (Mavs), 29.8 3P% (Mavs). https://t.co/c4RgnSkcwf

But Anthony Slater of The Athletic put it best:

Anthony Slater @anthonyVslater

Lakers are going with a playoff-type rotation and, through 15 quarters, have had the worst statistical offense of any of the 22 teams in Orlando. It's not panic time, but it's inching toward concerning.

Ultimately, the Lakers have four games to iron out any issues before the playoffs. Lakers reporter Mike Trudell mentioned as much while relaying head coach Frank Vogel's quotes about the team's need to get the offense in order:

Mike Trudell @LakersReporter

The Lakers have four more games to find a rhyhtm prior to the postseason beginning, but Vogel acknowledged the offense isn’t close: "Clearly, yes, we have to be playing better offensively than we’re playing right now."

Also, the Lakers are going to be heavily favored against whomever they play in the first round as that No. 8 team is guaranteed to enter the postseason with a losing record. They can likely get away with winning that series without being at their best, although No. 1 seed vs. No. 8 seed upsets aren't unprecedented.

But the Lakers should be fine as long as James and Davis stay healthy. They form the game's best duo and fit seamlessly with a rotation that largely complements their strengths thanks to three-and-D guys like Danny Green and veteran bigs like JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard.

In sum, the Lakers aren't playing championship-caliber basketball right now, but they simply don't have to be with time currently on their side.


What's Next?

The Lakers will finish their back-to-back set against the Rockets on Thursday at 9 p.m. ET. OKC will take on the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday at 4 p.m.