Top Takeaways from Lakers' Win vs. Thunder with LeBron James, Anthony Davis out

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IIApril 9, 2022

Top Takeaways from Lakers' Win vs. Thunder with LeBron James, Anthony Davis out

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Now that the Los Angeles Lakers have been eliminated from postseason contention, there's no reason for their star players to try to play through nagging injuries. And that's been evident by the lineups the team has sent onto the court in its past two games.

    On Friday night, the Lakers were without LeBron James (left ankle sprain), Anthony Davis (right mid-foot sprain), Russell Westbrook (right shoulder soreness) and Carmelo Anthony (non-COVID-related illness). Still, Los Angeles ended its eight-game losing streak with a 120-101 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in its final home contest of the 2021-22 season.

    James has already been ruled out for Sunday's season finale against the Denver Nuggets. And it's quite possible the Lakers' other top stars won't be on the court again, either.

    In their absence, Stanley Johnson (21 points), Wenyen Gabriel (16), Dwight Howard (15) and Talen Horton-Tucker (15) powered Los Angeles' victory against Oklahoma City.

    Here are the key takeaways from the Lakers' win over the Thunder.

Gabriel Has Proved He Can Be a Valuable Bench Player

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    On Friday, Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium reported that the Lakers had signed Gabriel to a contract that includes a team option for the 2022-23 season. And with how the 25-year-old forward has played of late, it's clear that he's worthy of a spot on Los Angeles' bench next year.

    Gabriel's 16 points in the victory over the Thunder came on 6-for-7 shooting. It was the second-most points he's tallied in a game since joining the Lakers. His most was a 17-point performance against the Toronto Raptors on March 18, when he shot 7-for-8 from the field.

    In 18 games for Los Angeles, Gabriel is shooting 49.5 percent, and he's even made four starts. He's better suited for a reserve role, but the Lakers have needed him to play more minutes down the stretch. And he's done a nice job, likely leading to this contract decision.

    Over three seasons in the league, Gabriel has bounced around numerous teams, and he hasn't gotten a ton of court time in the process. He played for the Sacramento Kings and Portland Trail Blazers in 2019-20, followed by the New Orleans Pelicans in 2020-21. Earlier this season, he had stints with the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Clippers.

    But Gabriel could get some stability in the near future with the Lakers, and he's earned it. As has Johnson, who has impressed at times throughout the season, including in Friday's win.

    These guys aren't going to be players who will get a ton of minutes if Los Angeles is successful again soon. But they're valuable to have on the bench so the team can avoid a drop-off when the starters need to rest or are dealing with injuries, which was an issue throughout this season.

No Late Wins Are Going to Fix the Lakers' Key Issues

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    The Lakers could go into the offseason on a two-game winning streak if they can beat the Nuggets on Sunday. And sure, that's better than ending the season on a 10-game losing streak, which they prevented from happening with their victory against the Thunder. But it may not prevent the widespread change that could be coming to Los Angeles.

    It still seems unlikely that Frank Vogel will be back as the Lakers' coach for the 2022-23 season. He may have led them to an NBA title in his first season two years ago, but they were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs last year before this season's disastrous showing.

    It's still possible that Westbrook may not be a good fit in Los Angeles. The 33-year-old point guard was the Lakers' top acquisition this past offseason, as they brought him in via trade from the Washington Wizards to play alongside James and Davis. And while injuries played a factor, Los Angeles still didn't get the intended results from its core of stars.

    According to Dan Woike and Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times, a Lakers staff member said that Westbrook "never respected" Vogel and that he didn't like how other players could bring the ball up the court, noting that he was the team's point guard.

    Trade rumors are already beginning to circulate. NBA reporter Marc Stein shared that "one scenario making the rounds" is the Hornets "could emerge with Westbrook interest in the name of creating some financial flexibility." There will likely be plenty more buzz to come regarding a potential Westbrook deal, too.

    So, Friday's win didn't really matter for the Lakers, just like a win on Sunday wouldn't. And it's going to be interesting to see what happens in Los Angeles this offseason.