Thunder look to maintain conference lead at Lakers


After just falling short against one Western Conference power, the Los Angeles Lakers will get a shot at another when they host the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday.

The Lakers showed early energy Saturday, leading by as many as 11 points in the first half before ultimately falling 124-114 at home to the Denver Nuggets. The opening half was highlighted by LeBron James’ 40,000th career point on a layup in the second quarter.

Los Angeles continued to hang around, leading 108-105 on an Austin Reaves fadeaway with 4:52 remaining before its chance at victory crumbled. A late 9-0 burst by the Nuggets put the game away, giving mixed signals about just how far the Lakers are from their spot in the lower half of the conference standings to the top of the heap.

“We’re still missing a couple of guys, and we’re still trying to figure it out,” said the Lakers’ Rui Hachimura, who scored 23 points Saturday, second to James’ 26.

“It takes time. I know we don’t have much time, but we just got to keep building that chemistry. We just got to figure it out.”

The Lakers have been without Jarred Vanderbilt (foot) since early February and Christian Wood (ankle) since the All-Star break, hampering their rebounding and defensive capabilities.

Against the Nuggets and Minnesota Timberwolves, two of the top teams in the West, the Lakers are 0-5. But versus the Thunder, they are 2-1, including a 112-105 victory at home over Oklahoma City on Jan. 15. That came after a 129-120 road win over the Thunder on Dec. 23.

“We just gotta lock in defensively and try to figure out ways that we can be better on both ends of the floor, honestly, not just the defensive end,” said the Lakers’ Anthony Davis, who scored 17 points with 11 rebounds on Saturday.

The Thunder enter off a 118-110 road victory against the Phoenix Suns on Sunday. They got back on track after a surprise 132-118 road loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday that ended their six-game winning streak.

Oklahoma City not only moved into sole possession of first place in the Western Conference, but the team won its 42nd game to guarantee its first winning season since 2019-20.

The victory came despite the Suns’ Jusuf Nurkic grabbing 31 rebounds. The Thunder were outrebounded by nine overall but had 16 steals and forced 22 turnovers that they turned into 31 points.

“A lot of nights we lose the rebounding battle,” Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault said. “And as long as the benefit continues to outweigh the cost, we’re going to continue to accept the trade-offs. We’re not going to be a perfect team.

“At the end of the day, there’s more to the game than just rebounding. … If we try to solve every problem, then we’re gonna be trying to chase our shadow.”

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 35 points with nine assists and eight rebounds. Jalen Williams scored 22 points and Chet Holmgren had 14 points and nine rebounds.

Oklahoma City was without big man Jaylin Williams because of a left knee sprain.

Monday’s game is the third of a four-game road trip for the Thunder that concludes Wednesday at Portland.

–Field Level Media

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