It wasn't an especially close loss. The Lakers won the first quarter 37-30, then proceeded to get outscored by 19 points in the second quarter, eight points in the third quarter and three points in the fourth quarter. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued to look like a burgeoning superstar, posting 33 points and seven assists.
After the game, James pointed to the Lakers' recent injuries as a reason for the runaway loss and praised the team's record despite adversity:
"You could start seeing the [three games in four nights], the back-to-back, the bodies that we don't have start to wear on us, especially vs. a young team like OKC."
"I have no idea what we are. How? We don't have our group yet. I know what some of us individually are, but as far a team, we don't have our group yet. We haven't logged enough minutes with our group where we know we got the starting group, the guys coming in, we got a good rhythm. We're over .500, we're 11-9 with literally not ever having our same group. That's pretty impressive.
Lakers head coach Darvin Ham echoed that argument to reporters:
"At the end of the day, I know what we're going to be. I know once we do get whole, how complete and balanced our attack will be. We just have to deal with it in the present and just try to, again put your best foot forward as best as possible.”
Those two aren't wrong about the Lakers being shorthanded, though it's far from clear whether they would be a top contender if completely healthy.
On Thursday, the Lakers were missing Cam Reddish, Jaxson Hayes, Jarred Vanderbilt, Rui Hachimura and Gabe Vincent. Those are all players who, for the most part, can provide competent minutes, but it's also not like this team is the Denver Nuggets without Jamal Murray or the Phoenix Suns without Bradley Beal. Both of those teams are still ahead of the Lakers in the standings.
James himself has acknowledged the Lakers' issues go beyond just who's missing, and it's pretty clear what's missing in the basic numbers. The team entered Thursday ranked last in the NBA in 3-point accuracy at 29.7%, 28th in offensive rebounding rate with 20% of their misses and 24th in turnover rate at 13.5%. Beyond James, the Lakers' only other consistent outside shooter is D'Angelo Russell and their big man rotation is as reliant on Anthony Davis as ever.
Will these be fixed when all those players come back? It's very believable they will at least improve. The Lakers were in an even worse spot this time last season and still wound up in the Western Conference finals thanks to an active trade deadline. Of course, all of that improvement added up to only a 43-39 record, and ended with the Lakers running into a brick wall against the Nuggets.