Records: Lakers 5-4 (7th in West), Grizzlies 3-4 (10th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 104.2 (14th in NBA), Grizzlies 98.5 (25th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 100.4 (10th in NBA), Grizzlies 102.1 (14th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Matt Barnes, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Grizzlies: Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Rudy Gay, Dante Cunningham, Marc Gasol
Injuries: Lakers: Derrick Caracter (out), Josh McRoberts (doubtful); Grizzlies: Zach Randolph (out), Darrell Arthur (out), Hamed Haddadi (questionable)
The Lakers Coming in: Win one, lose one. Win two, lose one. This is the nature of a team that’s still a bit more up and down than we’d all like. On most nights, their big three gives them exactly what they need and with the help of a role player or two it’s enough to win. On other nights, those role players don’t step up and the team loses. And then there’s those nights where one of the stars either does way more than expected (see Kobe’s last game) or doesn’t perform well at all (see Kobe’s 2nd game vs. the Nuggets) and the game goes according to that performance. I think we’re getting to the point where the team needs that 4th player to step up night in and night out but trusting any of the role players to consistently be that guy is difficult considering the inconsistent nature of their games. What’s more likely is that a different guy will play well nearly every night and hopefully that’s enough.
What would help this team is for McRoberts to get healthy and back in the lineup. Yes, he’s only a role player but his absence has been glaring. First, he’s athletic and helps the Lakers on the glass and as a finisher, both in fast break situations and as a slasher in the half court (not to mention as an offensive rebounder). Second, his presence means that Murphy can go back to being LA’s 4th big and not be the primary back up to both Gasol and Bynum. Against the Blazers, for example, Murphy played 27 minutes and was a -14 on the night. Against the Warriors, he was better in his 23 minutes of action, but I’d still prefer his minutes be around 15 per night to maximize what he brings to the table. This isn’t to dig on Murphy, who has been a pleasant surprise this year (especially for his work on the glass and how he at least tries to protect the rim on defense, even if that only means giving a hard foul). However, this Laker team knows what it’s like not having enough big man depth and how that can wear on them as the season advances. McRoberts getting back will help all the other Laker bigs, not only because his game complements theirs, but because his minutes will give them a needed rest. Here’s hoping he’s back soon.
The Grizzlies Coming in: The Grizz were last year’s darlings, returning to the playoffs for the first time since Pau was there and making noise by taking out the #1 seeded Spurs in the first round. With that success came expectations for this season, but things haven’t quite gone their way as injuries have hit them hard. When you combine that with the team now being a known commodity no longer overlooked by other teams, their lives are simply more difficult this season on a night in, night out basis.
For a closer look at the Grizzlies, Chip Crain from the Grizz site 3 Shades of Blue answered a few questions about how this team is coming along so far considering all that’s happened to them. Below is our exchange:
FB&G: The Grizzlies have been hit hard with the injury bug, first with Darrell Arthur and now, even bigger, with Zach Randolph. How’s the team responded to these injuries? Who’s stepped up? Who still needs to?
3 Shades of Blue: The Grizzlies suffered a tremendous blow when Zach Randolph went down with a partially torn MCL. Not many teams have the luxury of talent to lose an All NBA player and still continue winning. The Grizzlies are no exception. Darrell Arthur only added to that weakness. However the return of Mike Conley helps tremendously but it may not be enough against the taller frontline of the Lakers. Newly acquired Marreese Speights needs to show more than he did against Utah for the Grizzlies to be able to hang with the Lakers size.
FB&G: Looking at Rudy Gay’s numbers, he doesn’t seem all the way back to the form he showed last season before his injury. What’s been his biggest issue this year?
3 Shades of Blue: His biggest issue has been letting the game come to him especially on the offensive end. Gay tried too hard the first few games to make his mark felt and it hurt his numbers and the team. He’s been playing more under control lately and that has helped. He seems to be back physically but mentally is another question.
FB&G: OJ Mayo is always a player of interest for Laker fans due to his Southern California roots. How would you describe his performance this year and do you think he’s a long term player for the Grizzlies considering he’s always popping up in trade rumors?
3 Shades of Blue: Mayo has been up and down this season. He started off terrible with rumors of his being traded floating around. Mayo is not likely long for Memphis since his next contract will likely price the Grizzlies out of the running for his services. Too much money is tied up with Gay, Randolph and Gasol to pay a backup big money and Mayo will likely command a lucrative deal this summer.
Keys to game: The hype surrounding a Lakers/Grizzlies matchup always centers around the Gasol brothers going head to head. It’s pretty rare that brothers get to face off, even rarer when both are fantastic talents that can both impact the game the way that Pau and Marc can. That said, this is a game where Pau can make his imprint and will be a key to the contest.
As mentioned above, Zach Randolph is injured as is his primary backup. Pau will be matched up against Dante Cunningham, and should be able to work him over on offense by going at him early and often. Pau’s been great at taking (and making) his mid-range jumper, but tonight I’m hoping he goes more to the post to take advantage of the smaller Cunningham on the block. Pau’s been one of the most efficient post scorers in the league this year but with Bynum back, his chances down there have diminished, as big Drew has feasted at the front of the rim. Tonight, though, those roles could inverse and the Lakers would be better off for it. Pau should get ample touches at the left block where he can both get his own buckets and dish to teammates when the help comes. And trust, if matched up one on one with Cunningham, the help will come.
Featuring Pau doesn’t mean that Kobe and Bynum shouldn’t also get their touches, but the Lakers must be smarter about it tonight. Kobe’s facing one of the premier wing defenders in the league in Tony Allen and will need to pick his spots more carefully, working less in isolation and instead moving off the ball, by using the screens that his big men set for him. If Kobe can get Allen in a trail position coming off picks, he can then get him off balance easier and either get off his jumper in space or use Allen’s aggressiveness to fake him out of position where getting into the paint is easier.
As for Drew, he’ll be banging against the big body of Marc and will need to use all facets of his game, not just relying on his brute strength to get his position. Bynum will need to run hard to the front of the rim and make Marc run with him and then use his size advantage to pin him close to the rim. Bynum will also need to use his quickness to duck in on the weak side and move off screens well to get the ball. Once Bynum makes the catch, he should enjoy more single coverage than he did against Portland (it will be hard to help off Pau and Kobe) but he must make his decisions more quickly and not hold the ball to let the D shift in his direction. Either move quickly to shoot or make the correct pass earlier in possessions so that the Lakers end up having to force shots against the shot clock.
On defense, the Lakers have a “big 3″ of their own to contend with. That moniker may be a bit generous here, but Conley is the type of quick, all court point guard the Lakers struggle with. He’ll push the pace in the open court, use the P&R in half court sets to get into the lane, and flashes an improved jumper if you go under screens/sag off him to deny his penetration. The Lakers must mark him early in possessions, try make him change direction when he’s attacking in the open court, and make him shoot jumpers (regardless of how improved he is in that area).
As for Gay, he’s struggled with his jumper lately, but is still dangerous when working 18 feet and in, when he can elevate for his mid-range J or get all the way to the rim to finish with power. He’s also dangerous in the open court and can run to the rim or to the arc, so Matt Barnes will need to track him judiciously and not lose him, ever. Get caught ball watching and he’ll slip back door for a lob or work his way off a pick to make a catch, and then attack hard and shoot his pull up J going to his right hand.
And then, of course, there’s Marc Gasol. He’s the linchpin of the Grizzlies’ O, working the elbow as a facilitator when he’s not on the block getting his own baskets. He has the ability to knock down the mid-range J and has a great feel for hitting his teammates when they break open, so Bynum will need to pressure the ball and make him uncomfortable whenever he makes a catch at the elbow. In the post, Bynum will need to be smart and not go for any of the fakes that Marc will utilize on any possession. Bynum simply needs to use his body to deny position and then play him straight up while challenging shots without fouling. This is within Bynum’s comfort zone on D, but that doesn’t mean he can just coast. His head will need to be in the game both as a primary defender and in help situations.
Overall, on defense, the Lakers’ approach should be to force the Grizz to shoot from the outside. The Lakers finally face a team that struggles with the three pointer more than they do (Memphis 30th in the league in 3 point shooting), so they must prove they can knock down shots before the Lakers change their D and treat them with respect from the outside. So, I’m hoping that wing defenders help down on the post, close driving lanes by having help defenders with a foot in the paint, and that they close out under control and invite them to take jumpers.
Where you can watch: 6:30pm tip time on Fox Sports West. Also listen live on ESPN Radio 710am.