Fresh off two close losses, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder have a chance to kickstart 2018 when they take on the faltering Lakers in Los Angeles on Wednesday. Tipoff is late – 9:30 p.m. CT.
The Lakers (11-25) have lost five-straight without rookie point guard Lonzo Ball and they’re just 3-15 since Nov. 21. They’ve fallen into last place in the West; only Atlanta (10-26) has a worse record. To make matters worse, L.A. doesn’t own it’s 2018 first round pick anymore either. Either Boston or Philadelphia - depending on the Lakers’ final record - will own that pick.
The team deemed ‘most dangerous suitors’ for Paul George next year isn’t making a compelling case on the court.
But GM Magic Johnson and head coach Luke Walton still have some promising pieces on the roster. Ball hasn’t found his shot yet but he’s still getting 10 points, 6.9 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game as a rookie.
Fellow newcomer Kyle Kuzma looks even better, leading the team at 17.5 points per game while shooting 39.2 percent from deep.
Brandon Ingram has improved across the board in his second NBA season, elevating his scoring average from 9.4 to 16.1 and another rookie, Josh Hart, has looked great in extended minutes while Ball recovers from a shoulder sprain.
The Thunder have moved in the opposite direction over the past month, going a stellar 12-5 in December despite two-straight losses to cap 2017. Oklahoma City, which had been on the playoff fringe since the season started, entrenched itself in the middle tier of teams just behind the Spurs and Timberwolves.
Westbrook, especially, went on a tear in December, averaging 27.8 points, 10.2 rebounds and 10.6 assists in the month. Paul George has also been hot since November ended – shooting 48 percent from three and posting an average offensive rating of 110.
UPDATE: Andre Roberson will miss at least the next three games for the Thunder due to tendinitis in his knee. Ball remains questionable for the Lakers, who are also missing starting center Brook Lopez (right ankle sprain) and possibly Kuzma, who is battling a quad injury.
The Thunder will turn around and play the Clippers in a back-to-back on Thursday night, also a 9:30 p.m. CT tip.