Records: Lakers 3-0, Grizzlies 2-1
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.7, Grizzlies 101.0
Defensive ratings: Lakers 101.2, Grizzlies 99.0
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers:Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Grizzlies: Mike Conley, O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay, Darrell Arthur, Marc Gasol
Injuries: Lakers: Andrew Bynum (out, knee), Luke Walton (doubtful, hamstring); Grizzlies: Zach Randolph (doubtful, back), Xavier Henry (doubtful, strained neck)
The Lakers Coming in: Based off Phil Jackson’s comments, the Lakers are out of the gates well but have not started out “fast” with their 3-0 start. Phil wants to see the Lakers win 10+ games to start the season before he says that the team is off to a fast start. Okay then, I’m glad that is cleared up.
Regardless of what’s said though, the Lakers are off to a good start and are playing quite well so far this year. A rocky ring night still led to a W and the two games since have been pretty well handled. The Lakers’ offensive efficiency is strong and they’re coming off a very good defensive performance against the Warriors. If there were things to complain about I’d mention them, but there really isn’t at this point.
Continuing with what’s going well for the Lakers, Lamar Odom is playing excellent ball right now. I won’t get into all of the ways that this is the case, but one key is that he’s playing so well within the offense. Based off the stats at HoopData, Odom has nearly eliminated the mid-range jumpshot from his arsenal. While he’s still shooting the same number of shots at the rim as in year’s past (about 5 per game), his shots within 10 feet have nearly tripled (3 per game this year vs. 1.1 per game last year) and his shot attempts from 10-23 feet now total less than one per game. He’s also been more judicious from three point country as he’s lowered his attempts per game from over two to a shade over one. All of this has led to a more efficient Odom and a player that is a real threat on offense because he’s playing to his strengths more. I hope to see these trends continue as the season wears on.
The Grizzlies Coming in: The Grizz have made a lot of news in the past day, but unfortunately for them it’s not because of their 2-1 start. Yesterday, right before the deadline to do so, the Grizzlies decided to extend the contract of Mike Conley for 5 years and $45 million(!) dollars. This is newsworthy for a lot of reasons but the first two are the fact that A). this makes him wildly overpaid for the quality of player he is and B). there was no need to do this based off the fact that Conley was set to be a RFA after this season.
So now, the Grizz have given a boatload of money to a player that they could have just waited out as restricted free agent next year, let the market determine what he’s worth, and then signed him to a reasonable deal. Plus, going into a what is sure to be a testy collective bargaining negotiation with the players union, the Grizz (one of the teams that doesn’t do that well financially) has handed out a contract that paints owners as being able to spend what they want on guys. I mean, are you really hurting financially if you spend $45mil on Mike Conley? You better believe the union and their agents will be saying that to the owners behind closed doors.
As for on the court matters, the Grizz are playing pretty well right now. They lost on the road in their opener to a good Hawks team, but have since squeaked by the Mavs and blown out the T’Wolves. Rudy Gay and OJ Mayo have led the way from a scoring stand point with Marc Gasol averaging a double-double to start the year. And even though I just ripped his contract, Conley has also been putting up good numbers (15 points, 8 assists). Plus, while Zach Randolph has been sitting out since falling on his back in the first game, Darrell Arthur has provided some scoring punch at PF. This is a young team that looks ready to take the next step after a solid run last year.
Keys to game: Memphis is a team that has given the Lakers some problems over the years. They’re constructed similarly to the Lakers and thus match up fairly well. If Zach Randolph can’t go tonight that will surely hurt their chances, but in reality the Grizz are a tough out and discipline will be key.
In the first few games I’ve been asking that the Lakers go inside to Pau as the first option, but tonight I’m going away from that a bit. I still think that Pau needs his touches, but he faces off against his brother tonight and Marc knows how to defend his big bro. The younger Gasol really pushes Pau off his sweet spots and the array of jab steps, head fakes, and quick moves don’t seem to surprise the guy who likely served as a guinea pig for these moves growing up. So, I actually think this is night where Kobe will need to show that he is in fact 100%. While Mayo has good size and can be a committed defender, he doesn’t have the ability to keep Kobe from establishing position in the post so I hope to see Kobe operate a lot from that position tonight. Force the Grizz to double team or pay with high percentage shots from #24 from inside fifteen feet.
Earlier I mentioned Odom, and he too can be a difference maker on offense tonight. Whether it’s a banged up Randolph or Darrell Arthur that gets the start, Odom will have a quickness and length advantage against either player so I hope to see him at his utmost aggressive self tonight. If Odom can again control the defensive glass and turn those rebounds into fast and secondary breaks for the Lakers it will go a long way towards getting easy buckets for himself and his mates.
Defensively the Lakers are set up well to contain this team. With a team that’s so reliant on production from their wings to get baskets, the Lakers should be able to disrupt their offensive sets by releasing the kraken Artest, Kobe, and Barnes on Gay and Mayo to limit their production. These are players that rely a lot on isolation sets to get their baskets and those are the types of actions that play right into the Lakers’ hands defensively. So if the Lakers wings play discipline by not going for too many steals, playing straight up defense and contesting jumpers, things should work out well.
The other key to this game will be rebounding the ball. Despite playing two teams that aren’t great at controlling the glass, the Lakers are only +7 on the backboards for the season. They need to be better than that tonight. Marc Gasol is a very good offensive rebounder and if Randoph plays their front court becomes beastly on the glass. Ron will also need to mark Rudy Gay and box him out as he’s done a very good job on the offensive glass by grabbing over 2 a game.
Where you can watch: 7:30 start time locally on Fox Sports and nationally on NBA TV. Also listen live at ESPN Radio 710am.