This game was just bizarre. In the midst of 4 games in 5 nights, it would be tough to expect the Lakers to beat one of the league’s hottest teams, while lacking one of their 4 best players, and having a new coach. The Lakers managed to make it respectable in the end, a 106-98 loss to the Grizzlies in Memphis, but there were times when this game was ugly.
In the 1st quarter, the Lakers came out with some energy, garnering 3 early stops on a Dwight block, a Dwight strip, and a Darius Morris steal, twice leading to transition buckets for Morris. But when the game bogged down, the Lakers began running a very stagnant offense, while the Grizzlies offense kicked into high gear. Led by Rudy Gay, the Grizzlies jumped out to a 34-18 lead, with Gay going 3-4 from three point range. With the Lakers giving up 6 turnovers and 4 offensive rebounds, the Grizzlies were able to pounce on them in transition. Meanwhile, the Laker offense stalled, particularly with Gasol missing a number of jumpers and close shots, starting the game 1-6.
I’m one of Gasol’s staunchest supporters, but this was one of the worst games I’ve seen from him since he put on the Lakers uniform. He got worked by Zach Randolph on the boards, to the tune of 12 boards, 5 offensive, while getting out-hustled for loose balls, beaten off the dribble, and killed by back door cuts. His 27 minutes were well below his average this year, and he managed to be -23 in plus/minus in that short amount of time.
Pau’s minutes were low not only because of his poor play, but also because of the excellent play of Antawn Jamison. Jamison has been a non-factor (to put it kindly) for the Lakers so far this year, and this was by far his best game of this young season. Jamison came out and attacked the basket (as I’ve been calling for him to do on Twitter @ZephidFB_G pretty much all year). After two quick buckets and a 3 early in the 2nd quarter, Jamison finished with 16 points on 7-11 shooting with 7 boards. He also played more than serviceable defense on Zach Randolph down the stretch, far above expectations considering Randolph’s immense skill set down low.
With Pau having his worse game of the season, Jamison having his best, and the Lakers starters getting killed by their counterparts, this game really headed into Bizarro World when the Laker bench came in in the 2nd quarter. Facing a 16 point deficit, a lineup of Chris Duhon, Jodie Meeks, Metta World Peace, Jamison, and Howard managed to cut the deficit to 3 in under 4 minutes, with Jamison and MWP aggressively attacking the basket. Then the starters came back in, and the lead again ballooned to 14. Down 12 going into the 4th, it took another great effort from the bench to cut the lead to 6 in 4 minutes, only to see the starters come in again and lose most of the momentum.
The reserves ran simple sets, posting up Howard, waiting for the double, and making open threes. While Howard’s stat line is unimpressive (2-7, 7 points, 4 boards, 4 blocks, 3 assists), the doubles he drew on offense in the 4th led to 4 consecutive 3′s, 2 by Meeks, and one each for Jamison and Duhon. While it’s still no excuse for the Lakers ignoring Dwight for the first 3 quarters, the reserves finally found an identity, one which should continue in the future. However, the Lakers still refused to involve Dwight in any pick and rolls, an egregious offense considering he was the league’s best PNR big man last year.
In the end, the Grizzlies starters were just too good. Marc Gasol continually punished the Lakers for overhelping with his passing, while Mike Conley made several crucial shots down the stretch to seal the game. Tony Allen also did his part by bothering Bryant into 7-23 shooting, even though Kobe missed a number of shots he normally makes.
While the Lakers aren’t quite at the level we would like them to be at, there are signs of progress (things that didn’t happen under Mike Brown). Darius Morris had a strong game, going 4-6 from the field while playing decent defense. MWP again had a very good game, with 16 points on 5-9 shooting. Jamison, Duhon, and Meeks all played well in reserve roles, and the bench finally may have some semblance of coherence on offense with Dwight as their focal point. If Dwight and Pau play average, the Lakers probably win this game. But when your two star bigs score 13 points combined on 5-15 shooting, while your star 2-guard shoots 7-23, it’ll be difficult to win any game, and you get outrebounded 39-28, it would be difficult to win any game.