Records: Lakers 25-16 (3rd in West), Grizzlies 24-16 (4th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 104.0 (15th in NBA), Grizzlies 102.7 (19th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 101.4 (9th in NBA), Grizzlies 100.3 (6th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Grizzlies: Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Sam Young, Marreese Speights, Marc Gasol
Injuries: Lakers: none; Grizzlies: Zach Randolph (out), Rudy Gay (out), Darrell Arthur (out)
The Lakers Coming in: Tell me if this sounds familiar: The Lakers are coming off an important game at home that left them in high spirits after claiming the W. In that game they got a big contribution from the Artest I call Ron and now leave the friendly confines of Staples Center to go on the road. In order to secure the win, the Lakers best players had to play heavy minutes but in the moment that mattered little as the win was all that mattered.
If your memory hasn’t been jogged yet, I’ll fill in the blanks: Last week, the Lakers beat the Heat in a statement game in a Sunday matinee contest that they hoped would give them a spark. The day before yesterday, the Lakers beat the Celtics in a game that was played under the exact same circumstances with the same desired after affects on everyone’s mind. However, after the win over the Heat, the Lakers went on the road and played lazy, uninspired basketball and dropped two games on back to back nights against the Pistons and Wizards. Today, they’re on the road and play their first game of a back to back against the Grizzlies and go to New Orleans to face the Hornets tomorrow.
Have the Lakers learned their lesson? Tonight we find out.
The Grizzlies Coming in: The Grizz have won 6 of 7 and 12 of their last 15. They’ve gone from questionable playoff team to 4th in the conference – which could move up to 3rd with a win tonight. They’ve been playing great defense, getting offensive contributions from a variety of players, and have exceeded nearly all expectations for this season after the injuries suffered to Zach Randolph and Darrell Arthur to start the year. How Lionel Hollins’ name isn’t mentioned more often for coach of the year is beyond me.
All that said, the Grizz enter tonight’s game more banged up than usual with Rudy Gay ruled out due to a mild concussion he suffered two days ago. According to this report, he’s gone through the mandated tests to be cleared the past two days and has not passed them. Gay’s absence obviously hurts the team but with their strong play of late and momentum on their side, I still expect a great effort from them tonight.
Grizzlies Blogs: 3 Shades of Blue does a great job covering the Grizz. Give their site a read.
Keys to game: On the surface, the Grizz are a team that matches up well with the Lakers. They start two big men with good size, have an elite wing defender, have a quick PG, and do wonders in transition off forcing turnovers. Their formula to win games is to pressure the ball, defend the paint, and outrun teams to get good shots in transition. When in the half court, they rely on P&R’s and off ball movement with Gasol intiating from the elbow area as a trigger man for their sets.
The Lakers, to counter these strengths, must play a certain way. A few things I’ll be watching for:
*How does Kobe work against Allen? Tony is one of the most agressive, and successful, wing defenders. He’ll pressure Kobe’s handle, body him on and off the ball, and contest every shot. To take advantage of this style, Kobe will need to work well off the ball and make his catches on the move. Running Allen off screens, cutting off ball and into space where he can make catches easier, and then using his stength to fend him off will be key. When he does receive passes in order to create in isolations he must move quickly and use his fakes judiciously. Allen wants to contest shots and that aggression can be used against him but the fakes must come when Kobe already has an advantage, not used to try and gain one.
*Get Bynum the ball early in possessions. One of Marc Gasol’s strengths as a defender is his anticipation and how he can play angles. He’ll battle Drew for space and cut off his path when trying to move into his preferred spots. So, Bynum will need to rim-run in early offense and try to get position early. When he does get it, the Lakers wings must locate him and get him the ball on time and on target to facilitate a quick move from Drew. Bynum can also use his turn and face game against Marc as a counter to his preferred power moves. Marc has the girth to fight with Drew on the block so Bynum should use his quickness and length to get good shots.
*The Lakers must avoid turnovers. Passing angles evaporate quicky against this team and lazy passes will be intercepted. They like to pressure the ball in the half court and will extend that pressure full court if they feel they can disrupt the other team’s offense. Tonight the Lakers will need to be careful with how they try to move the ball around the perimeter and try to push the ball up court quickly to avoid working late into the shot clock. Better off ball screens will do a lot to help free the Lakers wings (and big men moving to the post), making sure that contact is made and position on screens is held will be a key factor tonight.
*Defensively, the Lakers must protect the paint and should surrender jumpers to this team. They’re an awful three point shooting team and don’t do well when they settle for the J in favor of attacking. The Lakers need to gum up the Grizzlies’ P&R attack by going under screens and making Conley make jumpers. Mayo should also be tested early and forced to show that his J is on before he’s shown too much respect from range. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Kobe guarding Tony Allen to start the game and have him roam on D and help anytime the ball is penetrated or if the post is exposed for too long.
In the end, this is a game that affects the standings and is important for that reason alone. However, it’s also time that the Lakers show that they can be a viable road team by beating good teams. Yes Rudy is out and they’re already down Randolph. But that should provide even more incentive to get this win. Rather than relaxing, the Lakers need to come out hard and get this game. If they play well, they may even get some rest in the 4th.
Where you can watch: 5pm start time on KCAL. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.