Someone on Quora asked today if LeBron were playing tonight against the Thunder. Short answer: no. Neither was Rajon Rondo, who’s been out since Christmas. But it’s not like the Lakers needed their brand-name players: okay, all the L. A. starters finished on the minus side of the Great Divide, but the Laker bench pounded the Thunder reserves unmercifully. (Example: Ivica Zubac, backup center, knocked down 26 points, a career high, on 12-14 shooting, and 11 rebounds to boot.) With 35 seconds left, the Lakers were up three; the score was unchanged thirty seconds later. Russell Westbrook earned three free throws in those waning moments, and made them all. With 2.9 left, the Lakers got one last possession; Kyle Kuzma put up a trey for the win, and didn’t get it.
They could wait. The overtime was almost all Lakers; the final indignity, perhaps, was a technical called on Raymond Felton, who otherwise had a DNP-CD. Los Angeles 138, Oklahoma City 128, and when was the last time you saw an overtime game won — or, for that matter, lost by ten points? The pundits will look for Redeeming Social Value, noting, for example, that the Thunder put up 54 (!) treys and made 22, a respectable 41 percent. Still, L.A. not only owned the boards, they collected rent on them, to the tune of 63-44. Kuzma posted a game-high 32 points. Westbrook? 25 points and 13 assists, but 7-30 from the floor. And someone should give Nerlens Noel a hand for surviving Concussion Protocol.
It gets no easier. Saturday’s trip to Philly won’t even be close to a cakewalk: the Sixers are 30-16 as of tonight. The MLK Matinee at Madison Square Garden — well, the Knicks are terrible, but are they terrible enough?