In what should have been an exciting matchup between the Lakers and the Thunder, turned into a poor shooting night for L.A. as the top team in the West fell to the Thunder 105-86. The Lakers have struggled to get their shots to fall from deep since arriving in the bubble, and this game was no exception. It wasn't just the long ball that wasn't falling, though, the Lakers looked out of sorts as a whole offensively throughout the game, which led to Anthony Davis putting up just nine points after exploding for a 42-point performance on Monday against Utah. James and Davis combined to shoot just 33.3 percent from the field, and didn't get much help anywhere else on the roster.
The Thunder, on the other hand, were able to take advantage of an off night for LeBron and the Lakers, and eventually blew the game wide open in the second half. While the Lakers did struggle heavily, OKC deserves some credit, especially considering Sixth Man of the Year hopeful Dennis Schroeder wasn't in the lineup. Rookie Luguentz Dort stepped up defensively to keep James in check, and Chris Paul orchestrated the Thunder's offense perfectly to pull out a win on a night where OKC shot just 20 percent from 3-point range. The win helps the Thunder in terms of playoff positioning, while the Lakers are still searching to solve their shooting struggles.
Here are three takeaways from the Thunder's win against the Lakers:
Lakers' shooting woes continue
It was another slow start for L.A. out of the gates and it didn't get much better from there. The Lakers shot an abysmal 13.5 percent from beyond the arc, and despite trying to stage a comeback in the fourth quarter, the 3s still weren't falling. It could be chalked up to guys like Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Dion Waiters still getting their legs under them, but this is the fourth-straight game where the Lakers have shot well below their season average of 35 percent from 3. These seeding games don't mean much for L.A. at this point considering it has the No. 1 seed locked up already, but the fact that its shooters have yet to get their shots to fall is a bit of a problem. There's obviously still plenty of time before the Lakers should be really concerned, but as this team prepares for the postseason, that should be a focal point.
Luguentz Dort ... that's it
Dort has built a reputation in his rookie season for being an absolute menace on defense. Earlier in the season, he was tasked with guarding elite players like James Harden and Damian Lillard, and he more than held his own. Tonight, he was given the incredibly tall task of checking LeBron James, and it was pretty eye-opening. On several occasions, James tried to impose his size on Dort in the low post, but quickly realized that this rookie is built like a brick wall. Aside from one instance where LeBron just bulldozed straight through Dort for a nice finish, the Arizona State product made life difficult for James, picking him up the full length of the court. He finished the game a plus-15, and racked up 14 points and four rebounds.
Without Dennis Schroeder's 18 points per game to help shoulder some of the offensive load for OKC, Dort was asked to produce more on that side of the ball. While he still needs to improve upon his 3-point shooting -- he went 0 for 4 on the night -- it was a solid showing for a player who was on a two-way contract earlier this season. Chris Paul and Danilo Gallinari certainly did most of the heavy lifting on offense, but Dort's impressive defense and ability to contribute on offense was a difference maker for the Thunder.
Thunder's win makes things interesting in the West
With the win tonight, Oklahoma City now pulls even with the Houston Rockets for the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference standings. It also puts the Thunder just a 1/2 game back of the Utah Jazz for the No. 4 spot with five games remaining on their seeding schedule. This is a crazy position for OKC to be in, considering this team wasn't even expected to sniff the postseason this year. Now, the Thunder could be as high as the fourth spot in the West, with a very real opportunity to win a playoff series. The path to secure that No. 4 seed won't be easy, though, as OKC still has to play Miami, the Clippers and a surprisingly undefeated Phoenix Suns team in the bubble. However, if we've learned one thing from this upstart Thunder team, it's that we should never underestimate a team with Chris Paul as its leader. Paul is having one of the best seasons of his career, and has willed this team of mainly role players to be one of the best surprises in the West.