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NBA Preview: Oklahoma City Thunder (27-11) at Los Angeles Lakers (19-21)

As one of the hotter teams in the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder will be tested on a road trip where they will face some of the best the Western Conference has to offer.

The first stop will be in Los Angeles for a two-game test against the reeling Lakers on Monday before a clash Tuesday against the surging Clippers. Another challenge awaits Saturday against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Oklahoma City has won nine of its past 11 games and is coming off a 112-100 victory over the Orlando Magic at home Saturday for the Thunder’s fourth straight win.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continues to lead the way, finishing with 37 points and seven assists against the Magic. He missed all four of his 3-point attempts but did go 13-of-20 from the floor while making 11 free throws.

Six times Gilgeous-Alexander was fouled while making a basket and he converted the ensuing free throw all six times.

All five Thunder starters scored in double figures, with Jalen Williams delivering 16 points and Chet Holmgren scoring 15 points with eight rebounds. Lu Dort, who had 12 points, was asked what opponents, such as the Lakers, can do to disrupt Gilgeous-Alexander’s flow.

The Lakers would appreciate any defensive strategies. Los Angeles is 5-12 since winning the NBA in-season tournament in December. And just when it seemed the Lakers found some momentum with consecutive victories last week, they followed that by losing games Thursday and Saturday.

In their 132-125 loss Saturday on the road to the Utah Jazz, D’Angelo Russell stepped up with 39 points as LeBron James sat out with a left ankle injury. Russell was downgraded to questionable on Monday afternoon with a non-COVID illness. He’s expected to be a game-time decision.

Russell and Austin Reaves (19 points) started in the backcourt together for the first time since Nov. 8 and went a combined 22 of 34 (64.7 percent) from the floor. But the Lakers still dropped to 2-4 during their current stretch when they will play nine of 10 in Los Angeles (their Jan. 23 matchup with the Clippers is technically a road game). Saturday was the lone non-LA game.

After missing five consecutive games with a calf injury, Rui Hachimura returned for Los Angeles and scored 17 points in 19 minutes. Anthony Davis had 15 points but took 21 shots from the floor and made just five.

Cam Reddish played 11 minutes while limited for the second consecutive game by a knee injury, but he’s out due to swelling, the Lakers said Monday.

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