When the Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder faced off most recently three weeks ago, Lakers superstar LeBron James became the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.
The Lakers will be without James when the teams meet Wednesday night in Oklahoma City.
James sustained a right-foot injury in Sunday’s win over the Mavericks and is expected to miss several weeks.
Tuesday, in Los Angeles’ first game without James, the Lakers fell to Memphis 121-109.
“We’ve got to continue to play the right way, we’ve got to continue to be together. and we’ve also got to continue on with the mission,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “The mission hasn’t changed for us. The goal of securing a playoff spot is still very much alive.”
The Lakers enter Wednesday’s game one game out of a play-in spot. The Thunder are a half-game behind the Lakers.
Tuesday’s loss snapped a three-game Lakers’ winning streak. Anthony Davis and Lonnie Walker IV carried much of the scoring load, combining for 49 points, while Austin Reaves added 17.
Los Angeles turned the ball over 26 times while forcing just six Memphis turnovers.
“You got arguably the best player to ever play the game. You’re going to feel his absence, that’s for damn sure,” Ham said. “But we have capable players at all positions. It’s just a matter of us slowing down ... and having a rhythm to what we’re doing.”
Wednesday’s game is the last of a three-game trip for the Lakers, who will return to Los Angeles to play their next five and 10 of their next 12 at home.
In addition to James, the Lakers remain without D’Angelo Russell, who is expected to miss his third consecutive game with a sprained right ankle.
The Thunder also will be without their best player, All-Star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Gilgeous-Alexander has missed three consecutive games with an abdominal strain and right-ankle soreness and entered the league’s health and safety protocol Tuesday.
While James took centre stage the last time the teams met, Gilgeous-Alexander and the Thunder came out on top, with Gilgeous-Alexander scoring 30 points in a 133-130 Oklahoma City victory on Feb. 7
Thunder rookie Jalen Williams also had a big game against the Lakers, scoring 25. Williams is averaging 18.3 points per game in the eight games beginning with the win in Los Angeles. He was averaging 11.7 points per game in his first 49 career games.
“I said before the season he’s going to be a future All-Star,” Oklahoma City’s Kenrich Williams said of Jalen Williams. “I’m super excited about the future and right now for him.”
The Thunder have lost their first four games since the All-Star break, allowing at least 120 points per game.
“I think we can win some games if we can get a little bit more concentration at the (defensive) end,” Oklahoma City’s Dario Saric said. “Still growing up, still focusing on the next game.
“A little bit more, I think, would be enough to really prove how good we can be and how good this team is right now.”
Wednesday’s game will be the second of three meetings between the teams this season. The series will conclude on March 24 in Los Angeles.
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