Records: Lakers 42-14 (1st in the West), Grizzlies 28-27 (tied for 10th in the West, 13.5 games behind Lakers)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 109.0 (9th in NBA), Grizzlies 108.4 (12th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 101.9 (2nd in NBA), Grizzlies 109.6 (24th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Grizzlies: Mike Conley, OJ Mayo, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol
The Lakers Coming in: As we’ve heard ad nauseum over the past few days (what can we say, slow news days for the Lakers since the Boston game), Kobe will be back tonight in his first action since the Nuggets debacle on February 5th. That was a quite some time ago. Over the time that he’s been out the Lakers have performed quite well, but it will be nice to have Bean back. It will also be interesting to see how Phil handles the rotations with both Sasha and Luke missing tonight’s game. Will we see heavy minutes for Kobe? When will Lamar enter the game and for who? Bynum has been limited in recent practices due to his sore hip, so maybe we’ll see LO for Drew earlier than normal. A lot of questions tonight as we have our starting group together for the first time in over two weeks. The good news is, everyone should be well rested coming into the game. The Lakers haven’t played since Thursday and had an off day on Sunday. So, with tonight the first game of a back to back, the Lakers should look fresh. Hopefully, we can say the same thing tomorrow.
The Grizzlies Coming in: Memphis has been struggling to get wins as of late. With only three wins in their last eleven games, the Grizz have not been playing their best ball and are playing a bit more up and down than they need to in making a push for the post season. And though some of their losses can be excused due to the quality of their opponents (Cavs, Hawks, Spurs), they’ve also lost to the Hornets (missing CP3), the Rockets (tied with them in the standings), Minnesota, and Miami (missing Wade). Throw in an uneven performance against the Nets on Sunday (where they were down by 18 at one point), and you’ve got a team that not a lot is going right for at the moment.
That’s because, besides the losses, there has been even more bad news for the Grizz in recent days. Trade deadline acquistion Ronnie Brewer is out indefinitely with a torn hamstring. Brewer, brought in to add some much needed depth on the wing from the Jazz, was supposed to be a key piece to help the Grizz make their push to the playoffs. Brewer, despite his up and down season so far, is a good player that plays above average defense and could have been a real asset at the end of games if paired with Mayo (with OJ sliding over to the point) and Gay on the wing by allowing those guys to guard the lesser offensive threats on the opposimg team. Now, with a question mark regarding the timeline of his return, the Grizz will have to go without their newest player and that can be a bit deflating for a team that was on the rise and looking to really make a move in the final 6 weeks of the season.
Grizzlies Blogs: 3 Shades of Blue is where you need to go for all your Grizzlies info. They’re smart and have skinny on the up and coming Grizz.
Keys to game: In the last meeting against the Grizz, the Lakers bigs looked tired (coming off a back to back) and not up to the challenge of facing the talented front court of the Grizz. Randolph went for 22 points and 17 boards while Marc Gasol chipped in a double-double of his own with 11 points to go with 13 rebounds. You add in an efficient night from Rudy Gay (25 points on 19 shots, with 3 steals) and you had a recipe for a long night.
Tonight, rest should not be an issue. The Lakers haven’t played since last Thursday and should be fresh as could be coming in BBQ country. On offense, they need to get back to basics while incorporating Kobe back into the mix. In the last outing, Kobe had a very efficient night, but dominated the ball to the tune of 41 combined FG and FT attempts while Pau/Drew/Ron/LO combined for only 42. Tonight, in Kobe’s first game back the shot allocation needs to be more balanced and our bigs need to be more involved. That means going into the post early and running our offense. Let Gasol go to work on whoever is guarding him and create offense for himself and others. If Marc is on Pau, that means Andrew will have a mismatch against Zach and he should also get ample opportunities to score the ball. One aspect of post offense I’d like to see more of tonight is the repost by our bigs. In the last game, Memphis did a good job of pushing our guys off the block and making their catches difficult. If they try that same technique tonight, our bigs must fight hard to gain position to make the post catches easier. But if they have to make a catch further out than they’d like, they need to pass back out and repost. And then our guards must reward them by passing the ball back in to let our guys go to work. Even against a team like Memphis, our big men have an advantage, it just may take more patience to exploit.
However, just becasue we should focus on going inside, that does not mean Kobe should not be involved. Quite the opposite, actually. I want Kobe to be aggressive, but he should be much more selective with his shots and try to work the offense more to get his looks. Make Mayo work by running him off of screens and occupy him on defense by working hard off the ball to get open looks. Kobe has a size advantage over OJ and he should exploit that by doing his work off the ball and making catches going to basket and getting good shots that way. Also, operate at the elboys in isolation rather than on the extended wing. As for the rest of our guards, tonight is a game where they must show more discipline than they’ve shown for most of this season and work the ball around in order to get everyone good looks. The push for the post season is now upon us and there is no better time to start practicing good habbits than tonight.
On defense, the Lakers need to focus on the taking away the strengths that hurt them the last time they faced this team. That means focusing on Zach in the post and on Mayo/Rudy on the wings and taking away what they want to do. If you thought Lamar loved to go to his left hand, Zach’s obsession may be even more pronounced. Zach loves to make his catches in the 15-18 foot range on the right wing where he turns and faces to either shoot his feathery jumper or drive by you because of the respect you must show him on his J. Pau needs to force Zach to put the ball on the ground to the baseline where Zach will have to either make the skip pass to the opposite corner or try to finish in the paint over our bigs. Zach is capable of doing this, but he’s less effective in these scenarios than when he’s dictating to you with moves in his comfort zone. And when Zach is in a straight post up postion, you must stop him from turning over his right shoulder. Make him drop step and finish by bringing the ball over an extened right hand that’s contesting (which is quite a difficult finish for a lefty). Stopping Rudy and Mayo is a different task as they are both players that can do it all from the wing. Both are capable jump shooters and both can attack the basket and are effective both ways. That said, Mayo is much more comfortable shooting the J from range (8 of his 15 shot attempts per game are from 16 feet and out) and Rudy is much more effective driving the ball (9 of his 16 shot attempts are within 15 feet). Understand these tendencies and you go a long way in making these guys less effective.
Also understand that Memphis is in the top half of the league in pace (they’re 12th in compared to the Lakers 8th). Most of this is due to Conley wanting to push the ball while he is in the game. Conley is much more comfortable in the open court than in their set offense and he will try to attack our guard in the open court when our defense is not set. Funnel him to his right hand and push him to the sideline at every opportunity. Along with recognizing what Conley wants to do also understand that unlike against recent opponents, the Grizzlies do not run to the three point line (save Mayo). Gay, Gasol, and Randolph all want to play close to the basket and will run to the rim. So in transition D, the Lakers must build a wall in the paint and then recover back to the perimeter when the Grizz pull the ball back out to run their sets. It should be a good game tonight and the Lakers should have revenge on their mind.
Where you can watch: 5:00pm start here on the West on KCAL locally and on NBA TV nationally. Also ESPN Radio 710am.