Records: Lakers 4-1 Grizzlies 1-4
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 102.8, Grizzlies 109.0
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 101.8 Grizzlies 117.7
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, DJ Mbenga
Grizzlies: Mike Conley, OJ Mayo, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol
The Lakers Coming in: Tonight is going to be entertaining — for fun I want to see the Lakers go small, run with the Grizzlies, score plenty and win by creating turnovers and easy baskets. I would love to see a starting lineup of Fisher, Brown (or Vujacic), Kobe, Artest and Odom, although I bet Phil goes a little more traditional and starts Mbenga for Bynum (because it should match up better with the size Memphis has up front). Still, at points the Lakers will go smaller and if it works it will be interesting.
One of the ongoing discussions in the comments so far this season has been this: Clearly the Lakers are not firing on all cylinders, and some issues like the weak bench play could become big problems in repeating as champions. How worried should we be?
I’m more in the camp with what JD Hastings said in the comments.
One of the biggest benefits of being defending champs is that there doesn’t need to be as much anxiety the next year. The team has proven what it can do. It wants to get it done again, but getting to that stage of the season intact is the most important part of that. Right now is the preseason for the Lakers. Games count, but making sure the little things are in order is worth losing a game or two in November.
Other teams tearing it up right now don’t have that. They all have something to prove. The Celtics need to prove they belong back in the forefront of everyone’s consciousness. The Magic need to prove they deserved to be in the finals. The Cavs need to prove they aren’t trending backwards. The Nuggets are trying to prove they are in the top echelon of teams.
All of them need to focus on these things to frame their mindset for later in the season. The Lakers just need to worry that they get healthy and understand everybody’s role. And they have a lot more to adjust to right now than just replacing one starter. Bynum’s increased role, Pau’s (and now Bynum’s) absence, Kobe’s increased post game… these are all elements being worked in. In addition to the fact that a lot of the team focused on resting through the summer and there’s a lot of cobwebs to work through.
If the team is still struggling with OKC in March, or go 0-6 against the big 3 in the East, then I’ll worry, but for now this is part of the joy of winning- letting all the other contenders battle to see who will be our challenger.
The Grizzlies Coming in: Remember how before the season started he mocked the Grizzlies saying they had a collection of ball hogs who would average three assists per game? Well, so far this season, they have assists on 50% of their baskets, 24th in the league. The Lakers are 23rd at 50.1%. I’m not finding that as funny now. (The team in last? Deeeeeetroooit Baaaasketball.)
The Grizzlies can score. OJ Mayo can shoot and create, Rudy Gay can slash, Marc Gasol can shoot a jumper (not as well as his brother, but not bad) and Zach Randolph has always been a scoring machine on the low block. They all are efficient scorers and they can get to the line. They are putting up points and might put up more if Mike Conley was playing better. Part of the reason for the success is they get their shots close to the basket — they are shooting 11.4 threes per game, six fewer than the league average (the Lakers average 16.2). They get close to the basket to shoot.
To beat the Grizzlies you need to score a lot of points — fortunately that has been very easy to do. They are disinterested, disorganized and disheveled at that end of the floor. There is no other way to put it.
Kelly Dwyer over at Ball Don’t Lie added this point about Zach Randolph:
I need to say this about Zach Randolph – he’s trying. He’s still really, truly, bad on defense. But he’s working his tail off, he’s obviously in better shape, and he’s thinking team-first. We knew he wasn’t a lost cause, based partially on how he worked his way back from microfracture surgery. Still, it needs to be pointed out. Randolph is trying.
Blogs and Links: I will be at the game tonight and participating in the ESPN Daily Dime chat, commenting here, and tweeting. Oh, and I may try to look up and see some of the game if I can fit it in.
Three Shades of Blue not only is a quality blog, they may be the only NBA team blog to ever have a one-on-one with their team GM and with team dancers. Now that is access.
Keys to game: Who doesn’t want to see DJ Mbenga and Hasheem Thabeet matched up on each other? The ultimate battle of offensive ineptitude. That is going to be the match up of the night. That or Kobe/OJ Mayo. One or the other.
Both of these teams benches have flat out sucked this year. The one that sucks less tonight will have a big advantage. Iverson — as unhappy as he is — provides them a scoring spark, someone from the Lakers needs to be that kind of spark.
The Lakers are going to score tonight, if they can keep this anywhere near a taco-friendly score on defense (giving up less than 100) they should win handily. That means turning Mayo and Gay into jump shooters — Mayo shoots 59% close to the rim, 42% from 16 feet out to the arc, for Gay it is 71% down to 42%. Normally I’m not a huge fan of the vague “points in the paint” stat but tonight it could be telling.
The other thing the Lakers have to do is crash the defensive boards — opponents are grabbing 32.8% of their missed shots, the highest rate in the league. Marc Gasol and Randolph can board and score inside, the Lakers need to not allow this to happen. This has to become a team focus, not just tonight but for the season.
Where you can watch: 7:30 start on Fox Sports, plus likely all sorts of feeds on the Web.