Lakers player grades: L.A. defeats the Thunder yet again

It’s clear after Saturday that the Los Angeles Lakers simply cannot beat the defending NBA champion Denver Nuggets. But on Monday evening, the basketball world got a reminder that they can defeat just about any other team on any given night.

They faced the Oklahoma City Thunder, who came in with the Western Conference’s best record and with a top-four ranking in both offensive and defensive rating. It was another contest in a very rough stretch for the Purple and Gold that will continue to see them playing teams with better records than them almost exclusively until the final week of March.

The Lakers started off slowly, trailing 22-11 after committing six turnovers in the first six minutes of the first quarter. But their bench sparked a rally that tied the score at 25 at the end of the period, and that momentum continued in the second quarter. They led by as many as 10 points in the first half and were up 52-43 at halftime, as they held one of the NBA’s most efficient offenses to just 30.6% shooting.

Los Angeles extended that advantage to 89-72 after three quarters and cruised to a seemingly easy 116-104 victory. The victory improved its record to 34-29 and pushed it into ninth place in the Western Conference, and it is just two games behind the sixth-place Phoenix Suns.

While the Lakers were efficient to the tune of 51.2% overall field-goal shooting and 47.1% from 3-point range, they had trouble holding onto the basketball until the third quarter, when they finally started to limit their turnovers. But they did have a massive 55-38 advantage in rebounding and a 22-15 edge in second-chance points, which has rarely happened this season.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Lakers’ performance on Monday was their defense, another department in which they have struggled. They allowed Oklahoma to shoot just 39.4% from the field, and combined with their prowess on the boards, it’s a winning combination they need to replicate on a consistent basis.

Anthony Davis: B-plus

Davis only scored in single digits in the first half, but he started to look like his usual self in the third quarter. He scored 15 points in the period, partly because he got to the free throw line often. He didn’t play at all in the fourth quarter, but he still finished with 24 points on 7-of-12 from the field and 10-of-11 from the foul line, 12 rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots in 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, Chet Holmgren, the Thunder’s Rookie of the Year candidate, scored just 15 points on 6-of-14 shooting from the field and 2-of-6 from 3-point range. He came into this contest averaging 17.8 points a game while shooting 54.4% overall and 39.7% from downtown.

Rui Hachimura: C-minus

Hachimura came in on a tear, having averaged 17.6 points on red-hot shooting in his previous nine games. But he shot just 3-of-8 and scored seven points on Monday.

He played just 22 minutes, and he was on the court for less than a full minute in the fourth quarter. It showed that head coach Darvin Ham is at least somewhat willing to be flexible with his lineups and not put a starter back into a game down the stretch just because he was in the starting lineup.

Austin Reaves: B

In terms of turnovers, Reaves was the Lakers’ worst offender. He had five of their 20 takeaways, but when he wasn’t giving up the ball, he was extremely efficient.

He made six of his eight field-goal attempts and went 4-of-5 from downtown, giving him 16 points to go along with seven assists and six rebounds. His excellent stretch of late continued on Monday, and it has greatly helped L.A.’s offense and overall play.

Reaves also helped keep Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in check on the defensive end. The MVP candidate found himself facing multiple defenders quite often on the same possession, and he scored just 20 points on 5-of-13 shooting.

D'Angelo Russell: A

Russell was quiet until late in the second quarter. He was on point after halftime, and he hit three straight 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter, two of which were of the “Are you kidding me?” type.

The veteran guard led the Lakers in scoring with 26 points, and overall, he shot 9-of-17 while knocking down five triples. In addition to chipping in six rebounds and three assists, he also had four steals and one blocked shot.

It’s no coincidence the Lakers have been playing much better basketball ever since Russell started his current hot streak in mid-January.

LeBron James: C-plus/B-minus

James was seemingly in cruise control for most of this game. With 19 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, he flirted with a triple-double, but more importantly, he played just 31 minutes.

The fact that James didn’t exert himself much in this game will help him and the Lakers as they continue a very challenging stretch of games. It is also proof they’re capable of beating good teams without him needing to pour it on offensively.

Taurean Prince: A

Prince returned to form versus Oklahoma City after a rough stretch of games. He hit his first 3-pointer after not hitting one in his previous three games shortly after entering Monday’s contest in the first quarter, and he ended up hitting four triples out of six attempts from that distance.

He was on the court for 22 minutes of game time, which allowed him to score 14 points while chipping in six rebounds, one assist and one blocked shot.

Cam Reddish: C-minus

In 13 minutes, Reddish went scoreless, and his only contribution was two rebounds. He’s likely not fully in game shape yet after recently missing about a month with an injured ankle.

Jaxson Hayes: B

Hayes did some nice work on the boards, and he also played some good defense on Holmgren, both in terms of not letting Holmgren get to the basket off the dribble and contesting shots.

He grabbed six rebounds, scored four points and added two assists, one steal and one blocked shot in 18 minutes. That’s the type of production L.A. needs from him, especially with Christian Wood still out due to knee swelling.

Spencer Dinwiddie: C

Dinwiddie has three assists in 24 minutes, but he continues to have trouble putting the basketball through the hoop. He was 1-of-4 from the field and missed both of his 3-point attempts, and the Lakers simply need him to hit shots on a consistent basis.

Oddly enough, the plus-minus statistics seem to favor him. He was a plus-35 on Monday, which led the team, and he came into the contest leading everyone on the roster in net rating.

Harry Giles III, Maxwell Lewis, Max Christie, Jalen Hood-Schifino: Incomplete

Giles saw his first action since signing a two-way contract with the Lakers. In four minutes, he grabbed one rebound and missed his only shot attempt.

Meanwhile, Lewis went scoreless while Christie hit a 3-pointer. Hood-Schifino scored on a free throw, but he missed all three of his shot attempts. He continues to have a hard time finding the basket even though he has played very well in the G League lately.

Story originally appeared on LeBron Wire