Memphis has not played much like a Mike Fratello team so far this season.
Oh, they may still be boring fans to death and setting offensive basketball back decades (weâ€™ll get a better look at them tonight, if we can stay awake), but they are not playing good defense. The ill-named Grizzlies have a defensive rating of 100.3 (points surrendered per 100 opponent possessions), 18th best in the league. For comparison, defense is the one thing the Lakers are getting right, with a 97.5 defensive rating, seventh in the league. Itâ€™s very early so take that those numbers with a grain of salt, but so far the Griz have not been defensive bears.
The question is can the Lakers take advantage of it. In the two losses on this road trip the Lakers have shot just 42.3% (eFG%) as a team (well below the season average of 48.7%). Part of the problem was the early-season reliance on Kobe (who has shot just 38% the last two games) and Smush (33.3% the last two). Other guys are going to have to pick it up, particularly in crunch time.
One of the good things about playing Memphis now is their team is a lot less deep and scary than last seasonâ€™s version. Gone are James Posey, Stromile Swift, Bonzie Wells and Earl Watson, all of whom started last season near Beale Street.
Still, the Grizzlies are getting good play out of Pau Gasol, who is averaging 21.9 points and 7.7 rebounds per 40 minutes while shooting 51.8% from the floor. He has never been a great rebounder, particularly for someone his size, and that continues as he has grabbed just 11.7% of the available rebounds heâ€™s seen this season, which is actually worse than his 13.7% career average. Frankly, Memphis is not great on the boards as a team and this is a place Mihm and Brown can make their presence felt tonight.
Two other guys who have stepped up into key offensive roles for Memphis have been Eddie Jones (shooting 55.4% this season) and Shane Battier, who is shooting an incredible 72.9% but isnâ€™t getting a lot of touches and has just 15.1 points per 40 played. Damon Stoudamire also is coming off the bench and has some game left.
The Lakers came into this four-game road trip wanting to go at least 2-2 (according to their coach) and to do that they need to win tonight. They struggled against a suddenly good defensive team in Minnesota (they actually lead the league in defensive efficiency so far this season) but then did so again against a bad one in Philly. If they can get the offense on track tonight this is a winnable game, but play like they have in the last two and they will come home below .500.