Lakers’ dominant win over Thunder exactly what they need at critical time

Lakers center Jaxson Hayes dunks against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Arena.
Lakers center Jaxson Hayes dunks during the fourth quarter of a 116-104 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder at Arena on Monday.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

At this stage, the scenarios are all easy to identify.

To have the best chance at avoiding a pair of road play-in games, the Lakers need to win. To give themselves some hope of a home play-in game, they need to win. And for the loftiest goal — a spot inside the top of the six spots in the West — the Lakers need to win.

A lot.

“We understand time is of the essence,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “And we’ve got to get busy in order to do what we’re trying to do.”

Monday’s performance at Arena made all paths for the Lakers seem possible.

Lakers players are frustrated they’ve lost eight consecutive games to Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets, and there’s no sign of the trend reversing soon.

March 3, 2024

With LeBron James flying around on defense, Austin Reaves impacting the game on both ends, Anthony Davis dominating the basket and D’Angelo Russell making all kinds of different plays, the Lakers looked like a menace.


In a 116-104 win against the Thunder, who fell to No. 2 in the Western Conference with the loss, the Lakers were dominant, flustering Oklahoma City for all bit the smallest stretches.

James foiled a lob at the rim to Chet Holmgren, Reaves harassed MVP candidate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Russell kicked off the fourth quarter by poking the ball loose and creating a transition opportunity.

A young Lakers fan reacts after Lakers star LeBron James scores against the Oklahoma Thunder.
A young Lakers fan reacts after Lakers star LeBron James scores against the Oklahoma Thunder in the first half Monday.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

“You can’t relax,” Russell said. “I think they’re number one, right? Yeah, so I mean you gotta you gotta be ready to play against those guys. It’s no fluke.”

The Thunder, playing on the second night of a tough back-to-back, opened hot — not the kind of start the Lakers needed after losing to the Denver Nuggets on Saturday.

The Lakers trailed 20-8 a little more than halfway through the first quarter, but for the first time since before the All-Star break, they responded with the kind of defensive ferocity that defined their late-season run a year ago.

Over the next 17 minutes or so, Oklahoma City scored only 23 points as the Lakers were at their absolute best.

Some slippage early in the second half quickly resolved itself before Russell slammed the door on the Thunder by hitting a trio of three-pointers with comically escalating degrees of difficulty.

James, who was selected conference player of the week earlier in the day for a record 68th time, scored only 19 points, but he grabbed 11 rebounds and had eight assists.


Russell finished with 26 points, Davis added 24 points and 12 rebounds, and Reaves scored 16 on eight shots and had six rebounds and seven assists.

Lakers forward Taurean Prince and center Jaxson Hayes try to block a shot by Oklahoma City Thunder guard Aaron Wiggins.
Lakers forward Taurean Prince, right, and center Jaxson Hayes, left, try to block a shot by Oklahoma City Thunder guard Aaron Wiggins during the first half Monday.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The Thunder’s 104 points were the fewest given up by the Lakers since Jan. 7. It’s also the Lakers’ third straight win over Oklahoma City, a team they conceivably could face in the first round of the playoffs.

Another team the Lakers are chasing, Sacramento, comes to town to Wednesday.

“That’s a very important game. We play them twice within the next week or so,” Davis said. “That’s gonna be a big game and then the one next week is gonna be a big game. We gotta come in and take care of business.”

They know what it’ll take — they showed that Monday. Now, they just have to keep on doing it.