By Michael Kinney
OKLAHOMA CITY — Having a team full of talented, but young players can mean a season full of up and downs. One day they are riding high, the next they are having to pull themselves up off the floor.
That was the case for the Los Angles Lakers after beating the Houston Rockets in their season opener. They came back two nights later and felt the sting of a physical, bruising loss in Utah during a 96-89 defeat.
“It hurt, but there’s nothing we can do about it,” Lakers guard DeAngelo Russell told ESPN.com. “We’ve got to stay positive and build off it as a team.
“When we lose, we can’t be separated. That’s when we’ve got to come together. I was just trying to preach that.”
Los Angeles will get another chance on Sunday to earn their first road win when they take on the Thunder in Oklahoma City.
The Thunder is coming off a 113-110 overtime victory over the Phoenix Suns. Playing in their first home game of the season, the Thunder had to fend off the hot shooting of TJ Warren and Devin Booker, who scored four straight points in the fourth quarter to send the game into overtime.
However, they were no match for the superhuman feats of Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook, who collected his 38th career triple double with 51 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists.
Westbrook is the first player since Kareem Abdul Jabbar in the 1974-75 season to have a triple double with at least 50 points.
Victor Oladipo, who is in his first season with the Thunder, is learning how serious Westbrook is about winning.
“This dude right here wants to win more than anybody in the world,” Oladipo said of Westbrook. “He’ll do anything to do that.”
However, while Oklahoma was pleased to win the dramatic contest in front of their home fans, coach Billy Donovan knows they can’t count on nights when Westbrook is forced to shoot the ball 44 times.
With only one other player scoring at least 10 points and shooting more than eight shots, Donovan is looking for more production.
“Overall, we’ve gotta get more people involved,” Donovan said. “We’ve gotta be able to utilize our big guys better and pound the ball inside.”
The Thunder will have a size advantage when taking on the Lakers. Steven Adams, Enes Kanter, Domantas Sabonis and Ersan Ilyasova can all score in the paint.
Los Angeles will look to counter with a mobile and quick Julius Randle, who wants his team to take on a more aggressive attitude on the road.
“We gotta go take road wins,” Randle told the Los Angeles Times. “Stay true to our character, who we are. Just gotta take wins.”
The Thunder know what type of squad the Lakers will be bringing to town and are prepared for the to bring a lot of energy as they look to bounce back.
“They are a good, tough team,” Oklahoma City guard Andre Roberson said of the Lakers. “They are without Kobe (Bryant). They are looking to prove themselves. They are hungry. We just have to come out and be ready to fight their game from the jump.”
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