OKLAHOMA CITY — Despite one of the youngest rosters in the league, the Thunder have played with veteran savvy at times this season.
That wasn’t the case against the Lakers on Wednesday, however, as the team’s youth was on full display against one of the most experienced teams in the league.
It took the Lakers just four minutes to jump out to a 16-4 lead, and the Thunder never cut the deficit to less than eight. It was a game that felt like it was over before it began, and the Lakers eventually cruised to a 128-99 lead.
The Thunder’s young players struggled to contain the NBA’s seventh-highest scoring offense. With center Al Horford resting, the task of defending Lakers all-star Anthony Davis fell largely on Darius Bazley, and the Lakers took advantage early. Davis scored against Bazley on four consecutive post-ups to start the first quarter, including an and-one.
When the Thunder started sending double teams at Davis, the Lakers opted to post-up Lebron James on the Thunder’s other second-year player, Lugentz Dort. Dort and Bazley gave valiant efforts, but were no match for James an Davis, who combined for 44 points.
Thunder coach Mark Daigneault has preached all season for his team to learn learn from playing against more experienced teams. In Bazley’s case, Daigneault wanted to challenge him with guarding a player of Davis’ caliber.
“Those assignments continue to build his catalogue,” Daigneault said. “ If you look at [his career so far], he’s had a lot of defensive assignments. He got on the court last year and learned the system, but he was primarily defending secondary players.
“He’s taken a lot of tough assignments this year by guarding some of the best [players] in the league.
On the offensive end, Oklahoma City failed to find a rhythm, shooting 43% (37 of 86) overall and 32% (15 of 19) from 3-point land. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led with 17 points on 5 of 12 shooting.
“They took us out of some of our sets with their physicality,” Daigneault said. “...[but] the message to the team is always that it’s a 48 minute game, and every minute is an opportunity to compete and to forge an identity.”
One positive was rookie Aleksej Pokusevski, who had his best offensive performance to date. He finished with 10 points, his first double-digit game, and made two 3-pointers.
“[Aleksej] did a good job tonight. Every minute he’s out there, he’s learning and figuring things out,” Daigneault said. “There’s a lot coming at players that are rookies, and It looks like he’s getting more comfortable on offense. His length has already shown up on defense.”
Pokusevski echoed his coach’s sentiments, but admitted playing against a veteran team like the Lakers was a learning experience.
“When you play a team like that — a team as good as the Lakers — you have to play well every minute, or they’re going to take advantage,” Pokusevski said. “I’ve watched Lebron since I was 10-years-old, so it was definitely an experience to compete against him.”