In a Saturday afternoon game, both the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Lakers played their part. The Lakers looked terrible, without Kobe Bryant playing, and the Thunder didn’t really need to work too hard in order to come away with the 118-78 victory.
The thing about beating the Lakers this season is that it’s pretty much like winning against the Philadelphia 76ers; it doesn’t mean anything. With Bryant (who has really improved lately) missing the game due to some shoulder pain or without him, the Lakers are a team that seems to be at odds with itself. Players, like D’Angelo Russell, wanting to play a certain way, but a head coach and maybe a front office doing its best to sustain a losing framework and keep this about being Bryant’s retirement tour, as if to blur the tanking from sight.
The Thunder, of course, are on a different trajectory. At 18-9, they seem to be the leaders of the pack that’s not the Warriors or the Spurs. Their growing pains through Billy Donovan’s system are improving, but it’s still difficult getting accustomed to something that’s simply not in some of their players’ DNA. Playing against the Lakers and doing it is nice, but sometimes it feels that this team was meant to remain just behind the alpha dogs, and the era of Durant is going to end up with an empty trophy cabinet.
The Thunder got 22 from Durant in 30 minutes, followed by Enes Kanter scoring 19 off the bench. This was the kind of game to help everyone’s +/- and net ratings. Durant, who cares so much about these things and his box score, it was probably even more pleasing than the win. It was very different for the Lakers, led by Lou Williams with 20 points, as it was negatives all across the board. Russell, who scored 12 points in 27 minutes, finished with a -34.
But the Lakers play no defense, despite the claims of their head coach to know a thing or two about the subject. They play with no joy half the time and without any urgency, especially when they’re away from home (And they’ve been away a lot). This just feels like another lost season for so many players on this team, while the franchise keeps everything on hold just so one player can get one last shot at glory, while the others are starving for a coach who can actually teach them something.