On Tap: The Memphis Grizzlies

 —  December 20, 2004

Back in November, the Lakers went into Memphis for the second half of a back-to-back and produced one of those complete dud games that leave us all shaking our heads. Much like Friday night.

Tonight, they catch Memphis in a back-to-back, but that’s not necessarily good news — Memphis is 4-2 in those second games. That said, this is the kind of game the Lakers should win (they are 6-1 in recent games after giving up 105 points), but we can only hope that the Dr. Jekyll and not the Mr. Hyde Lakers show up.

That early season win against the Lakers was one of the few bright spots for Memphis in the first month of the season, and less than two weeks after that game coach Hubie Brown was gone, with Mike Fratello taking his spot pacing the sidelines. In December, the Griz are 6-5 (the Lakers are 4-4).

Last time around, Memphis took advantage of two things that have become a recurring problem for the Lakers: 1) Poor defensive rotation on the perimeter that left a lot of open three pointers (Memphis shot 44% from behind the arch for the game); 2) They grabbed 17 offensive rebounds.

Memphis has another strength playing to a Laker weakness — their leading scorer is Pau Gasol playing the four (a very good PER of 25.0), a spot where the Lakes oPER is a high 18 (remember the league-wide PER average is 15). Gasol led the Griz with 22 the last time they played the Lakers. They did plenty more damage inside — Memphis scored 50 points in the paint in that game, compared to 32 for the Lakers. The Griz also had 15 more fast break points.

This may be a slow-paced game — the Griz average fewer possessions per game (89) than the Lakers (who have upped their possessions from 90 to 95 per game after playing Phoenix and Seattle). The keys for tonight starts with consistent defense for the Lakers (as it will every game until they start doing it). If the Griz starting guards Mike Miller and Jason Williams start the game getting open looks at threes and penetrating at will — ala Gilbert Arenas and Larry Hughes — it is going to be a long night at Staples.

The Lakers need a big game from Lamar Odom — the Griz’s weakest point defensively is the four (17.7 oPER). Last game he had 14 points and 11 rebounds, this time if he can get involved early — like in Sacramento — it would pave the way for the Laker offense and, maybe, get Gasol in foul trouble.

The Lakers also need to get good bench play — the two leading Roland Rating players for the Griz are Earl Watson and Shane Battier, the first two guys off the Memphis bench. (Battier started the last game against the Lakers and scored 18.) The Lakers need to be able to match that intensity off the pine — Jumaine Jones missed that last Memphis game and may play a big role playing at the four.

While I talked a lot about the last game between these two, in a lot of ways you can throw that game out — if Dr. Jekyll shows up this is a completely different Laker team. After the stunningly sad performance against Washington a couple nights ago, I expect the Lakers to come out with something to prove tonight.