The Los Angeles Lakers’ final home game of the season Friday against the Oklahoma City Thunder figures to be less of a day for fan appreciation and more about continued questions over what went wrong during a dreadful season.
As if getting eliminated from playoff contention earlier this week weren’t enough, the Lakers (31-49) were required to return to action on a back-to-back. They fell 128-112 on the road against the Golden State Warriors on Thursday to extend their season-long losing streak to eight games.
It was a better showing for the Lakers than expected since they were without LeBron James (ankle), Anthony Davis (foot), Russell Westbrook (shoulder) and Carmelo Anthony (non-COVID illness).
Talen Horton-Tucker scored a career-best 40 points, but the Lakers lacked a finishing kick after they led 81-78 with 5:35 remaining in the third quarter.
Lakers head coach Frank Vogel wasn’t ready to say whether any or all of his stars would be in action against the Thunder.
“We’re literally going to see how those guys are physically feeling (Friday) and make that call then,” Vogel said. “And we do recognize it’s fan appreciation day so we want to make sure that our fans feel appreciated.”
James and Davis have played just 21 games together this season, and while that duo was supposed to lead the Lakers to big things this season, the team is just 11-10 when they both take the court.
Among the Lakers’ issues, team defense was a particular problem this season. With Alex Caruso joining the Chicago Bulls, Trevor Ariza was supposed to make a difference on defense. But he was limited to just 24 games and the Lakers requested waivers on the veteran Thursday.
“He’s a heck of a player and we definitely missed him,” Vogel said of Ariza, who didn’t play until Dec. 19 after having surgery on his right ankle. “… It just didn’t play out. Injuries are a part of the game. Can’t lose any sleep over it.”
Nobody has to tell the Thunder about the impact of injuries. They already were in rebuilding mode, then struggled to stay healthy. Star guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander hasn’t played since March 21 (ankle) and promising rookie Josh Giddy (hip) last played Feb. 24, and both were shut down for the season.
The Thunder (24-56) are coming off a 137-101 blowout road defeat against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday. It was the third time in the past nine games Oklahoma City gave up at least 132 points.
“It’s our next game, that’s why it’s our most important game,” Thunder rookie Jeremiah Robinson-Earl said. “I think it’s a fun spot to be in for the last stretch of our games, but I think it’s still our next game and we’re just worried about getting better each and every day.”
Despite the rough season, the Thunder will bring some confidence into Friday’s game. Their first two victories of the season were against Los Angeles, 123-115 at home on Oct. 27 and 107-104 on the road Nov. 4.
In their most recent meeting, Dec. 10, the Lakers earned a 116-95 victory.
–Field Level Media