Tramel: LeBron James shows Thunder that size matters in Lakers' rout
LeBron James got the ball on the wing and was guarded by Alexsej Pokusevski. You read that right.
We have reached the point in this NBA season where literally anything is possible. LeBron and Poku are playing the same sport, but aren’t playing the same game, if you know what I mean.
LeBron is almost twice as old and seems twice as big as the Serbian stringbean. Poku would stand a better chance of finding his way out of the Kiamichi Mountains than stopping LeBron.
But LeBron is a kindly soul. A benevolent NBA monster. LeBron took mercy upon Poku and instead of driving and sending Poku reeling into Reno Avenue, LeBron launched a stepback 3-point jumper. It went in, of course.
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That’s LeBron’s method of load management. He’ll take a breather by avoiding the traffic in the lane a few times a game.
A couple of possessions later, there was Poku again, guarding LeBron. Same exact thing, except this time LeBron’s 3-pointer was wiped out by an illegal defense call against the Thunder.
Illegal defense? How about illegal rosters? How can you stage an NBA game where one team looks like genetically-engineered mutants against guys barely out of high school?
The Lakers’ size is startling. You forget until the game starts. You know the names, you even see the starting lineups, but it doesn’t really register until the basketball begins.
Then, Anthony Davis is playing power forward for the Lakers, because someone bigger can man the pivot. Marc Gasol was the second-biggest structure in OKC on Wednesday night, behind only the Devon Tower. Gasol is 7-foot tall and 7-foot wide.
Which means LeBron is playing on the wing, when he’s not playing point guard.
LeBron as the third-most physically imposing player in a starting lineup? The Lakers are science fiction.
The starkness came early in the Thunder’s 128-99 loss to the Lakers.
Gasol guarded by Isaiah Roby, Davis guarded by Darius Bazley and LeBron guarded by Luguentz Dort.
LeBron is about six inches and 35 pounds bigger than Dort, and LeBron is the best player in this or any other world, and yet that’s the matchup you felt best about from a Thunder perspective, since Dort is thick in body and desire.
Roby has a winning smile and is a pleasant surprise as a Thunder role player, and Bazley looks like he’ll have a nice career as an NBA ballplayer, but they looked like summer campers called out to the court for bemusement .
Does size matter? It more than matters when said size comes with top-shelf talent.
“It’s the NBA,” said Thunder backup Kenrich Williams, who took a turn guarding LeBron. “Players are going to be big. It’s all about going out there and competing and fighting. I don’t think size really has a lot to do with it.”
Well that’s just silly. Size is what makes Davis, Davis. Size is what makes LeBron, LeBron. Even Gasol. Incredibly large men who can work wonders with the basketball. Davis has the footwork and shooting touch of an elite small forward. LeBron has the court instincts of and skills of an all-star point. And they’re playing in bodies that dwarf opponents.
Thunder coach Mark Daigneault acknowledged the size differential and the lack of recourse for a squad like the Thunder. But he offered up a challenge and what an outmanned team can get from a game like this.
“A lot of it is our base coverage,” Daigneault. “Let’s have them score on us because they’re big, not because of a mistake we make. That’s the challenge. If a team’s bigger than us, or more athletic than us, let’s force them to rely on that. Tonight, the other thing they did, they made some shots. Let’s make a team like that make shots.”
The Lakers made shots. The Thunder actually didn’t get slaughtered in the paint, even with starting center Al Horford taking the night off, standard on the second night of a back-to-back and quite fortuitous for Horford’s well-being. Old Al is a grizzled pro, but he’s undersized, too.
The Lakers made 28 of 48 shots in the paint, but that’s not bad. The Thunder wasn’t too much behind that, 24 of 43. OKC even got 16 foul shots, two more than the Lakers, on paint fouls.
But the Lakers made 17 of 37 3-point shots, including five of eight from LeBron himself.
That’s the Laker story. Size AND skill. I know of no tonic for that.