Records: Lakers 21-11; Grizzlies 10-23
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.8 (6th); Grizzlies 107.2 (15th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.0 (8th); Grizzlies 111.6 (27th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum
Grizzlies: Mike Conley, Mike Miller, Rudy Gay, Pau Gasol, Darko Milicic
The Grizzlies Coming In: I look at a Memphis roster with Pau Gasol, Rudy Gay, future Olympian Mike Miller and the emerging Mike Conley and think, â€œHow can they be this bad?â€ This is not a roster that would contend, but one of the worst records in the NBA?
New coach, new GM, what kind of changes has that brought on the court?
The new coach has brought in a new philosophy both offensively and defensively that has caused some adjustment problems this season. That has been compounded by a series of injuries to Darko Milicic and Pau Gasol who were supposed to anchor the heart of the defense especially. The inability to put a consistent starting lineup on the court week to week dramatically slowed the maturation process of the team both defensively and offensively. However, over the last two weeks the team has established the lineup they wanted to begin the season with and are starting to see better results because of that. A blowout win in Indiana, a tough 4 pt loss at Boston and a win at home against Miami has got the team off to a good start to begin the New Year. Chris Wallaceâ€™s impact has been felt but is somewhat muted compared to the impact he should make over the next 12 months. Chris pulled off a great deal to acquire Juan Carlos Navarro who is both another deadly outside shooter and best friend of occasional malcontent Pau Gasol killing two birds with one trade so to speak. His signing of Darko Milicic may be a bit expensive for what we have received so far but other teams were willing to swoop in if we didnâ€™t get him signed so I think Wallace did a good job there. The injured thumb on Darkoâ€™s left hand has retarded his development but there arenâ€™t a lot of talented 22 yr old centers with 4 yrs experience available. The three year contract doesnâ€™t commit the Grizz to an eternity waiting for him to develop either. Mike Conley is looking like an excellent pick as well.
Thereâ€™s some good young talent in guys like Rudy Gay and Mike Conley, how does Pau Gasol fit in with that? What are the fan feelings about Pau now?
How Pau is fitting in with the new system and players and how the fans feel about Pau are two radically different questions. The city of Memphis dislikes Pauâ€™s style of play and his apparent lack of physicality. It has gotten so bad that the fans loudly booed Gasol for a bad performance one game after he put up 31 pts and 13 rebounds against Philly. That isnâ€™t exactly a supportive home town atmosphere for the man who has been the only bright spot on the team for the last few years. The problem with Pauâ€™s adjustment to the new relates back to your earlier question. Pau suffered a sprained ankle in training camp, a back strain at the beginning of the season and a jammed big toe. These injuries were spread out over the first two months and combined with Darkoâ€™s sprained thumb and sprained ankle have limited the opportunity to the two bigs have had to adjust to each other. That has been getting better lately and the Memphis Trio of Gay, Gasol and Miller are really getting in groove lately. When all three are comfortable and healthy in the system they make a difficult group to stop and throw in lightning quick Mike Conley at the point and Darko to be the physical presence and there is a lot to be optimistic about next season.
This is another season where the Memphis defense is holding the team back. Is this a matter of effort or personnel?
The simple answer is yes. No one will ever confuse Gasol or Miller as defensive stoppers. However the main problem has been at the point not the interior. When Damon played the opposing point guards easily beat him off the dribble to penetrate into the box. From there it was relatively easy to simply continue to the hole or dish to an open teammate when one of the bigs moved to cover. Iavaroni has been working hard to correct this and the insertion of Mike Conley into the lineup has severely reduced this problem. In the games since Conley took over as point guard the scoring has been 72, 100 and 94. No one will confuse the Grizzlies with San Antonio, Detroit or Houston but we arenâ€™t the Warriors right now either. The teamâ€™s health issues created a lot of the defensive problems as did the new system but again those things seem to be working more in the Grizzlies favor of late.
What is going to be interesting is to see how things change once teams adapt to Conley. Right now Mike is benefiting from a lack of scouting on his game but that will change soon and how he adapts to different defensive and offensive schemes will go a long way to determine how effective the Grizzlies will be the remainder of the year.
Lakers notes: Sometimes I have long, thoughtful posts planned that just get chopped off at the knees before I get them up on the site. For example, this thing I had been working on about how I am growing to really like the Lakers rotation at the three â€” Luke Walton and Trevor Ariza have very complimentary games. Need the Triangle to flow, some play in the post and a guy who can stretch the opposing defense, go with Luke. Need better defense and an athletic guy who can run the floor and get to the hole, go with Trevor. The Lakers can play to any match up.
Then today Mike Bresnahanâ€™s Lakers Report in the LA Times talks about how the three is overlooked and Phil is going to use Luke or Trevor more based on matchups. So just read what he wrote.
Stat To Watch Tonight While Thinking About When Blu-Ray Machine Prices Will Come Down: When Mike Miller scores 17 or more points, the Grizzlies are 10-8, when he scores less than 17 they are 0-15. (Via True Hoop.)
Keys To The Game: Since becoming a starter Conley has averaged 9.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 2 steals a game. Itâ€™s a key reason that the Grizzlies the Lakers face are better than their record. He seems to be getting the ball to Miller and Gasol in better positions for them, opening up their game. And if you go way back in the TrueHoop archives, youâ€™ll find I liked Rudy Gay from the first time I saw him.
The Lakers should be able to score plenty tonight â€” the Griz do not defend any position particularly well, but are really weak inside. Bynum should be able to get his position and shot against Darko, and Iâ€™d use him in the high pick-and-roll with Kobe to force Darko to recover quickly or force a switch favorable to our emerging big. Also, Odom should be able to exploit Gasol on defense. Iâ€™m also curious how Memphis will choose to defend Kobe, with Gay or Miller. Either way, whoever has Miller on him (Kobe or Walton) should be able to get some points.
The key for the Lakers will be defense (as it is every night, really). Memphis is a roster with a lot of firepower so the Lakers need to not let it get rolling. Iâ€™d like to see a lot of pressure on Conley (using Fisher but also Farmar and maybe some Crittenton) to test the youngster. Heâ€™s going to be good but heâ€™s still a rookie, so pressure the ball. In addition, the Lakers need to make sure Gasol, Miller and Gay do not get comfortable.
Also, the Lakers canâ€™t turn the ball over â€” Memphis is 1-10 this season against the teams with the lowest turnover percentages. Take care of the ball and you take away some easy baskets for a team that needs them.
Tonightâ€™s Game: Where A Road Win Happens: This is the first game of a back-to-back, with the second game being the very hot Hornets. The Lakers want at least a split here and it will be much easier to get on the front end than the back end. But, if the Lakers look past a Memphis team that feels some momentum and they will be in for a tough night. The Lakers need to play good defense, and the win will come.
Where you can watch: Game time is 5 p.m. (Pacific). In Los Angeles tune into KCAL (9), and thankfully no delay here. Keep the comments coming as Iâ€™ll be â€œwatchingâ€ this one through ESPN Gamecast from work.