LA’s postseason hopes stay alive with surprise victory.
With no LeBron James, no D’Angelo Russell and, in an unfortunate surprise twist, no Anthony Davis, it felt like your Los Angeles Lakers might have close to no hope tonight in Oklahoma City against one of its chief play-in tournament rivals, the Thunder.
At least, until you took a gander at OKC’s own injury report, and realized that a certain All-Star point guard would be unavailable.
Reserve guard Dennis Schröder, elevated to a starting gig with D-Lo out, stepped up in Russell’s absence, scoring a game-high 26 points against his old team, on 8-of-18 shooting from the field (3-of-6 from deep) and 7-of-8 shooting from the free throw line. He also chipped in six assists, two rebounds, two steals and a block.
This turnaround jumper was probably his slickest take of the night:
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, after missing three games with an injury, was out due to the league’s health and safety protocols.
Things between the two squads were within single digits for much of the night, until a 12-point Schröder fourth quarter performance (including 4-of-4 shooting from the foul line) helped LA create some separation (at one juncture the Lakers led by as much as 13) and ultimately secure a 123-117 victory. Schröder also had a surprisingly aggressive night on defense, eventually fouling out with 27 seconds left in regulation and the game all but over.
This essential Schröder performance is made all the more remarkable by the fact that he appeared to significantly sprain his left ankle in the game’s first half, before gritting out a victory.
LA struggled to get into a fast break rhythm for much of the night, though with its full compliment of players that is something of a scoring specialty, tonight became more of a situation where Lakers players felt out the opposing defense and took what the enemy gave them. The Lakers trailed the longer, more athletic Thunder in the fast break scoring category 25-7.
Offensively, the Lakers enjoyed cushy advantages in free throws taken and attempted (LA went 31-of-39 from the charity stripe, while OKC went 18-of-24) and, in a rarity, made three-pointers (LA shot 16-of-35, while Oklahoma City went 11-of-40).
Backup Los Angeles small forward Troy Brown Jr., starting in the stead of LeBron James for the second straight night, scored a season-most (and thus, a career-most as a Laker) 19 points, while backup shooting guard Austin Reaves notched 19 of his own.
Elsewhere for the Lakers, Lonnie Walker IV (13 points), newly-minted starter Mo Bamba (12 points) and Malik Beasley (11 points) all also scored double figures.
Though he didn’t score in double digits, reserve LA forward Rui Hachimura had some nice two-way moments:
LA could be getting some reinforcements back as early as Friday, when D’Angelo Russell and Anthony Davis could both return.
In the meantime, this victory very much kept the club afloat in the crowded Western Conference standings. The Lakers improved to a 30-33 record and the West’s 11th seed, leapfrogging the now-28-34 Thunder (the 13th seed) and the 29-33 Portland Trail Blazers (the 12th seed). Los Angeles is just one game behind the 31-32 New Orleans Pelicans, and just four games behind the now-34-29 Phoenix Suns.