Oklahoma City Thunder forward Georgios Kalaitzakis (18) dunks during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers in Los Angeles, Friday, April 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)
LOS ANGELES — Stanley Johnson scored a season-high 21 points and the Los Angeles Lakers snapped their eight-game losing streak with a 120-101 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night.
Wenyen Gabriel added 16 points as the Lakers wrapped up the home portion of their dismal season with their first win since March 21 despite playing without LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook. The star trio led the cheers from the bench as this underachieving squad finally got something new to celebrate.
Los Angeles was eliminated from playoff contention Tuesday, absorbing the final blow in one of the most embarrassing seasons in recent NBA history.
“There’s a lot of joy in basketball that hasn’t been there this year because of what we were competing for and how we were falling short,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “It was just good to enjoy a W.”
The Lakers improved to 11-30 since Jan. 7 when their supporting cast grabbed this win without its three injured stars and ailing backup Carmelo Anthony. James was ruled out for the season earlier in the day with an ankle injury, scuttling his bid to win his second NBA scoring title.
The stars’ absence created opportunities for the likes of Johnson, who played his way from the waiver wire into a regular role for the Lakers this season. Eight Lakers scored in double figures.
“I look forward to being here if they’re able to have me,” Johnson said of next season. “I’ve been through the whole Lakers organization this year, from the G League to the NBA. I would love to have the opportunity to take a whole summer and be engrained into what they do.”
Jaylen Hoard had a career-high 27 points and 17 rebounds, and Georgios Kalaitzakis scored a career-high 25 points while the Thunder used only six players in their 15th loss in 19 games. Oklahoma City is finishing its first back-to-back losing seasons since relocation in 2008 with two games in downtown Los Angeles.
“They played a lot of minutes,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said of his six-man rotation. “There’s only so many games left, so it’s a good opportunity for them to get out there and play. They just put their heads down and competed, and I’m proud of them for that.”
Kalaitzakis, the Greek rookie who began the season with Milwaukee, scored in double figures for the third time in four days since signing with the Thunder out of the G League last Tuesday.
Hoard also put up his latest line of eye-popping numbers while the three-year NBA veteran is getting his first extended playing time of the season this month.
“Just knowing that we have a lot of guys out, I know that even if I make a couple of mistakes here and there, I’m probably going to stay in the game,” Hoard said. “It’s just letting me play free.”
Thunder: Isaiah Roby took a hard fall and checked out of the game in the first quarter, but returned sparingly due to foul trouble.
Lakers: Gabriel got a standard NBA contract earlier in the day, punctuating his solid play since joining LA on a two-way contract March 1. … Davis, Westbrook and Anthony are not ruled out for Sunday’s season finale, Vogel said. … Kendrick Nunn missed his 81st consecutive game with a bone bruise in his right knee, a preseason injury initially expected to sideline him for three weeks. He has a $5.25 million player option for next season after never playing this season.
This game also could be the Los Angeles farewell for Vogel, who seems likely to be the fall guy for the Lakers’ woes. Vogel led the Lakers to their 17th championship in the Florida bubble only 18 months ago, but they lost in the first round of last year’s playoffs before the faceplant of their current season.
Vogel has repeatedly declined to speculate on his future in recent weeks.
THE BIGGEST PROBLEM
With James ruled out for the season, the Lakers’ top three players managed to appear together in only 21 games this season.
The Lakers celebrated Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s upcoming 75th birthday at halftime. The NBA career scoring leader was joined by several former teammates at midcourt as Herbie Hancock serenaded him over a huge cake. Abdul-Jabbar turns 75 on April 16.
Christian Pulisic scored while crashing headfirst into the goalkeeper in the 38th minute and the United States advanced to the knockout round of the World Cup with a 1-0 win over Iran on Tuesday night in a politically charged rematch of their famous meeting a quarter-century ago.
HONOLULU — Hawaii's Mauna Loa, the world's largest active volcano, has started to erupt for the first time in nearly four decades, prompting volcanic ash and debris to fall nearby, authorities said Monday.
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