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The Lakers are growing up together as the trade deadline looms

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Brandon Ingram was running point and staring down Carmelo Anthony defensively, rejecting Melo's shot as if he were the grizzled vet who knew what move was coming.

Julius Randle was playing bully ball against an Oklahoma City Thunder team that had pushed and intimidated the Los Angeles Lakers twice this season.
Brook Lopez was knocking down 3-pointers, blocking shots and even dishing assists. Rookie Josh Hart was rebounding as if he were the 7-footer on the team. And Jordan Clarkson provided his steady stream of offense off the bench.

As Thursday's trade deadline rapidly approaches, the Lakers wrapped up an 11-day, five-game trip -- one that felt as if it would never end -- with one of their signature wins of the season. Without Lonzo Ball, the Lakers' stirring upset victory in Oklahoma City on Sunday over a team that had dominated them by 24 and 37 points in their two previous meetings was easily one of their best.

"Just resilient," Randle said. "It's a great win for us. We are growing up as a group."

After the 108-104 victory over Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Anthony, the Lakers blasted The Notorious B.I.G.'s "Going Back to Cali" in a very satisfied locker room. They were heading back to the West Coast with a victory that might rank only behind earlier wins over Houston and Boston this season.

If this young Lakers team is indeed growing up as a unit, it remains to be seen if management will allow it to keep maturing together. It's a good bet that Magic Johnson's and Rob Pelinka's cellphones will be ringing more and more as the trade deadline gets closer. Vets like Randle and Clarkson probably will continue to draw interest from contenders who can help Los Angeles get closer to its goal of clearing more cap space to shop in free agency.

These Lakers, though, put aside the uncertainty of the future and saw what they're capable of doing when they play together, focused and inspired.

Sunday's game was fun to watch. That hasn't always been the case, especially with Ball out. The Lakers didn't back down against the reigning MVP, as Westbrook went for 36 points and nine assists while trying to rip down the rim whenever he could. They flinched but didn't fold when George scored seven points in the last two and a half minutes and nearly rallied the Thunder at the end, slicing a 10-point Lakers lead to three with 24 seconds left.

Perhaps most important, they didn't allow Steven Adams to push them around again like the playground bully that he can be. The Lakers held Adams to five rebounds, this after the Thunder center outrebounded the entire Lakers' starting five and nearly had as many offensive rebounds (seven) as the Lakers' starters had total rebounds (eight) the last time they played in OKC.

"We got pushed around again today, which is fine as long as we push back," said head coach Luke Walton, who drove the point home to his team that they had to be physical. "That is when it is fun, guys going at each other, but the first two times it was just them pushing us. We stayed strong and fought back."

Even without their injured rookie playmaking point guard, the Lakers shared the ball with purpose as they repeatedly found areas in the Oklahoma City defense that they wanted to attack. Six Lakers, including the starting five, scored in double figures.

No one knows what the future holds for the Lakers this season or whether Randle, Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr. or any other Laker who has been mentioned in trade rumors will remain in purple and gold by Thursday night, when they host the Thunder for the last meeting between the teams this season. Those three have done their best to block out the rumors and keep playing.

At times this season, the Lakers have looked like a mess; a team that was going to fracture due to the understanding that management will make changes this summer. This young roster can still produce some of the worst stinkers you'll see, as it did just three games ago when the Lakers lost to the Orlando Magic, who had entered that game having dropped 20 of 23 games.

And then they can do what they did Sunday and stand up to the star-powered Oklahoma City Thunder.

Several of these Lakers know they might not be on this team next season after Magic and Pelinka go shopping in free agency. The players don't know what will happen this week.

No matter what this week holds, the Lakers saw what they're capable of doing together when at their best, and they enjoyed one another like a team whose bond seems to be growing tighter.

After the locker room nearly cleared out, Ingram talked about why he kept playing through a sore groin injury that continued to bother him.

"This game today meant more to my teammates than anything," Ingram said. "So it was important for me to stay out there."

Now, we wait to see if everyone remains a Laker for the remainder of the season.

Related Video
Lakers hand Thunder 4th straight loss
Lakers hand Thunder 4th straight loss
Brook Lopez scores 20 points as the Lakers defeat the Thunder 108-104.

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