OKC Thunder: Can Laker lesson propel Thunder forward?

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

Oklahoma City Thunder guard d passes from under the basket in front of Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma, center, and center JaVale McGee, right, in the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Oklahoma City.

The Thunder could easily have decided Saturday night’s loss to the Los Angeles Lakers was all about shooting and the chances of a shooting disparity like that happening again are slim and none.

For example, on the way to finding themselves down 32 points with 9:43 remaining in the third quarter, Oklahoma City had made 2 of 14 3-point attempts and Los Angeles had knocked down an astonishing 12 of 15.

Had both teams simply made five of their trifecta tries to that point, the Lakers lead would have been ahead by only two points.

The Thunder, who are back in action at 7 tonight, tipping off at Minnesota, weren’t having it.

Three players addressed the media afterward and all three offered some version of the same message.

“They jumped on us early,” Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said. “They kind of set the tone for the rest of the game … We let them get comfortable.”

Danilo Gallinari said the issue was playing a full 48 minutes, rather than a half and Chris Paul said he wasn’t too old to learn a lesson.

“It isn’t even just for the younger guys. It’s for all of us; me, too,” Paul said. “You have to come out and be ready. We talked about it, but we didn’t show it.”

The Thunder were actually more responsible with the ball, committing only seven turnovers to the Lakers’ 12.

Yet, if quantifying energy is the quest, a good place to look is the offensive glass and there, even though the Lakers were shooting at a significantly higher percentage, thus creating fewer offensive rebounding opportunities, they still more than doubled up the Thunder 12 to 5.

Oklahoma City may have been lulled into a false sense of security, taking on a Los Angeles team without the services of its two superstars, LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Yet all that seemed to do was offer more opportunity to the Lakers who took the court, seven of whom tallied double-digit points, two of whom — Rajon Rondo and Kyle Kuzma — combined for 57.

If the Thunder can use it, it’s a terrific lesson to learn given the schedule in front of them.

In its last two games, Oklahoma City has faced the Nos. 1 and 3 teams in the Western Conference.

Against Houston, the night Russell Westbrook returned, Oklahoma City scored 37 points in the first quarter, its most explosive opening 12-minutes of the season. Against the Lakers, the Thunder allowed 41, very nearly the most they’d allowed in the first quarter all season, having allowed Portland 42 on Nov. 27.

Meeting the Timberwolves, the Thunder are taking on a team out of the playoff picture if the postseason began today. However, from there, though they return home, it’s Toronto, Miami and Portland visiting Chesapeake Energy Arena next.

The Raptors and Heat are the Nos. 4 and 3 teams in the Eastern Conference and the Trail Blazers ousted OKC from the playoffs last season. After that, the Thunder travel to Houston.

Saturday’s unpleasantness against the Lakers might seem like a game to be forgotten, but OKC coach Billy Donovan wasn’t inclined to go that direction either.

“I never like just saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to flush this and not even talk about it’ … There’s a standard you want to play to, and for us, we can look and measure, ‘Was that the standard we were capable of playing at?’" he said. "And I think everybody, coaches, need to be better, players can be better, we can all be better in terms of trying to help one another.”

Oklahoma City had been playing at a very high level.

Even with the loss, the Thunder have still won 7 of 9 and 11 of 14 games.

Learn the lesson the Lakers taught and perhaps their winning ways will continue.

Game 40

Oklahoma City at Minnesota

Time: 7, tonight

Place: Target Center, Minneapolis

Records: OKC 22-17; Minnesota 15-23


Radio: WWLS-FM 98.1

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