Records: Lakers 6-6 (Tied for 7th in the West), Grizzlies 8-2 (1st in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 105.5 (5th in the NBA), Grizzlies 104.0 (8th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 99.8 (13th in the NBA), Grizzlies 98.2 (8th in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Darius Morris, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard
Grizzlies: Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol
Injuries: Lakers: Steve Nash (out), Steve Blake (out); Grizzlies: Darrel Arthur (out)
Where you can watch: 5pm start time out west on TWC Sports Net. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.
Rather than go with a traditional preview, we’re going 3-on-3 with me, J.M., and Emile on tonight’s game. Feel free to give your take on the three questions below (or add your own) in the comments.
Darius Soiano: The easy answer is Pau or Dwight Howard as their individual matchups vs. Randolph and Marc Gasol are ones that require they play well if the Lakers are to win. But I’m going to go with the PG duo of Darius Morris and Chris Duhon. Mike Conley and Jerryd Bayless offer perimeter playmaking, defense, and scoring punch to a post-centric Memphis attack and if the Lakers’ point guards do little to counteract and/or offeset the Grizz duo’s production, it will be very difficult for our guys to pull out the win.
Emile Avanessian: Pau Gasol. Dwight Howard’s quiet game in Sacramento was a one-off. He’s not getting four shots again. Pau, however, got a more characteristic 10 field goal attempts. What he did with was disappointing. Aside from the 3-pointer he made in the second quarter, Pau missed seven of nine shots – all four of the jumpers he attempted in the game, and three of five in the paint. As secondary facilitator, top-thee (on a top heavy team) scorer and (against as good a power forward/center combo as there is in the league) key interior defender, Pau Gasol has got to hammer the boards, really dig in on D and, simple as it sounds, make more shots.
J.M. Poulard: Dwight Howard isn’t D12 just yet, but he will have to look a little like the player that once hoisted the Defensive Player of the Year award in order for the Lakers to be victorious tonight. His ability to change shots at the rim, defend big men one-on-one as well as help in the pick-and-roll and then retreat back to the paint need to show up just a little in order to take away the biggest advantage the Grizzlies have: their interior scoring.
2. What part of Memphis’ style of play concerns you the most?
Darius: Their ball-hawking defense is particularly worrisome tonight. The Lakers have been better at taking care of the ball since the Princeton offense was scrapped, but against the Kings the giveaways returned and the Lakers suffered for it. Kobe had 7 turnovers on his own against Sacramento and a repeat-type performance would be a disaster against a Grizzlies group who loves to play the passing lanes and turn steals into easy baskets. Every Laker will need to be aware of Memphis trying to force miscues and will need to be more aware when making passes of any kind. Also very important is that the bigs are cognizant of double teams in the post as guards digging down can quickly turn into a lost possession.
Emile: The front line. Style aside, Rudy Gay plays well against the Lakers. Plain and simple. And he’s the least of the Lakers concerns up front. As things stand today, the Grizzlies feature the best power-forward-center combo in the NBA. The Lakers duo is not far behind, but to argue that Dwight and Pau have performed at the level of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in 2012-13 is incorrect. Zach Randolph has been a terror or the boards – averaging 13.8 per game and ranking third in both Offensive and Total Rebound Rate – while hanging 16.7 points per game on 47% FG and a 21.3 Usage Rate. Gasol, meanwhile is averaging 15, 7 and nearly five assists per game. As a center. He’s got a 20+ PER with a Usage Rate of 16.3. We see maestros at the point guard position regularly. Marc Gasol is playing that type of game – offensive catalyst, but not primary scorer – from the paint.
J.M.: The Grizzlies play at what occasionally seems like a breakneck pace – especially at home – because they clamp down, getting into passing lanes, force turnovers and fly down the court for transition baskets. If the Lakers fail to properly space the floor and deliver pinpoint passes, the Grizzlies will force a multitude of mistakes and capitalize on them.
3. If only choosing one key for the Lakers to win, what would it be?
Darius: Rebounding effectively on both ends of the floor will be key tonight. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph feast on the glass on both ends and their ability to extend possessions can be a major factor if the Lakers allow it to continue tonight. On the other end, the Lakers’ bigs must be better on their own offensive glass than they were against Sacramento by securing extra possessions and converting them into second chance points. Memphis wants to grind you down on both ends but controlling the glass can limit their ability to do so.
Emile: The front line. Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard have generally played pretty well in these early goings, but we’ve yet to see a dominating performance from the Lakers’ bigs. Sure, Dwight’s not 100% yet and Pau’s not normally the type of player to actively take over a game, and plus, Bean’s killing it, but if the Lakers are going to win at a contender clip and consistently beat good teams, it can’t solely be on the back of Kobe Bryant. Tonight the need for such a performance is heightened, with the Grizzlies boasting the best 1-2-3 front line in the NBA, and an in Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph have literally a do-it-all duo at the bigs. Pau and Dwight will not only have to produce at superstar levels at the offensive end, but challenge perhaps the most skilled big man combo in the NBA.
J.M.: Rebounding. The turnovers will go a long way towards determining the tempo of the game, but nothing controls a contest quite like a rebounding edge. Memphis loves to feast on offensive rebounds but has trouble when opposing teams crash the boards on them as evidenced by their most recent loss to the Denver Nuggets. Own the boards, own the Grizz.
Lastly, I just wanted to add that the Lakers are entering a difficult part of their schedule with a back to back tonight and tomorrow against the Grizz and the Mavs and four straight games against playoff caliber opponents. Now that the season has started there is no rest for the weary and the Lakers will need to claw their way up in the standings while adjusting to their new coach and learning another new system.
They will be fatigued — mentally and physically — and it will show in their play. And while it’s understood the season is a marathon with time to find their stride, it will be better for them if they can rack up some wins in the process. The other teams will not wait for the Lakers to become the juggernaut we all hope they can become; opponents will try to get their licks in now. This team will have to fight their way out of the corner while they’re learning to play together and dealing with injuries. Here’s hoping they’re up to it.