UDPATE: I now see that Mike Conley has been ruled out of tonight’s game. That changes the dynamics of this game a fair amount, on both sides of the ball. Jerryd Bayless will likely assume the PG role and while he is not as good a player as Conley, he can be an explosive scorer from behind the arc and in creating out of the P&R. Where missing Conley really hurts is on D as he is a pest on the ball and in the passing lanes. The Lakers will need to take advantage of the Grizz missing Conley by pressuring the ball more defensively and looking to attack more off the dribble against whoever Bayless is guarding — especially if he finds himself defending Kobe.
The Lakers are back in action tonight squaring off against the Grizzlies in the final game of their 4 game road trip. The game also marks the team’s fourth contest in five nights and the second in two nights, so if the team looks a little run down, don’t be surprised. The team can still somewhat salvage the trip, however, with a win tonight. That would make them an even 2-2 over that stretch and bring them back to within one game of a .500 mark on the year.
The team’s issues right now are as clear as possible. Missing every point guard on their roster has affected the quality of play on both sides of the ball. The offense is not as crisp on either the first or the second unit and, similarly, the defense is struggling to contain point guards and dribble penetration in general.
Further, missing the PG’s has thrust Kobe into a role that he’s not yet ready to assume at this stage of his comeback. Kobe doesn’t yet have his timing and is not anywhere close physically to the player he was last season. Having him as the primary ball handler has resulted in too many turnovers and a drastic shift into how the team initiates its sets. Rather than running a lot of standard high P&R’s, Kobe is dribbling the ball to the wing and running more side P&R’s to start the offense. This shift is subtle, but important because it changes the angles in which the offense is trying to attack the defense which then affects the types of shots generated by the team.
Also of note is that rather than looking to penetrate out of the P&R (as Blake and Farmar often did), Kobe is slowing his dribble more around the foul line and either looking for an opening at that point or pulling the ball back and looking for post ups for Pau (or shifting his own position after an initial P&R to set up his own post up). As I’ve mentioned in the past, these changes aren’t critical from the sense that the team is suddenly not getting good shots, but they are changes from the way the team was operating before and the result has been an adjustment that has translated to a disruption of the rhythm the team was in before Kobe returned.
But, again, it’s not just that the offense has become too Kobe-centric but rather that the team has been forced to slide Kobe into a role where he is depended on to be a primary creator of offense. The fact that he’s struggled at times to fill this role adequately isn’t so much an indictment of him as it is an unfortunate result of injuries to the point guards and in terms of Kobe’s recovery from his own injury. So, even while the narrative seems to be that Kobe is somehow to “blame” for issues now plaguing the team, a step back reveals that once again injuries have taken a toll on a roster not built to sustain them.
Where this leaves the Lakers entering into tonight’s game against the Grizzlies is, unfortunately, where it’s had them for many of the other games they’ve had since Kobe returned and the injuries to Farmar and Blake occurred.
Offensively, the team will need to be selective in how they attack a ball-hawking defense that would love nothing more than to get some turnovers they can turn into easy baskets. Mike Conley (though questionable with a bruised thigh, should play) and Tony Allen can both be pests in the passing lanes and risky passes – especially the ones Kobe has been tossing out of the P&R – will result in the types of live ball turnovers that hurt.
That said, a more deliberate attack shouldn’t be the default for the Lakers, even if that’s what is most comfortable to them. The Grizz will be without Marc Gasol and while Kosta Koufos has played well in his absence, the team would be wise to attack him and Zach Randolph via the P&R and attempt to get out in front of them in the open court to create baskets in early offense. Key to this will be Kobe looking up to pass ahead, but also on the wings to get out and run when they have the opportunity to do so. Key, however, is that the Lakers actually secure defensive rebounds before trying to get up court. Randolph and Koufos do well on the offensive glass and the Lakers must gang rebound to ensure they aren’t hurt on the glass. The easiest way to give up baskets is via put-backs and spot up jumpers after kickouts, so the Lakers must be sharp in closing out defensive stops with rebounds.
Continuing on the defensive side, the Lakers must try to keep the Grizz out of the paint, both on penetration and through post ups. Conley and Bayless are Memphis’ key penetrators so funneling them towards help is key. When they come off screens (either on the ball or off), the Lakers’ bigs must be responsive and slide to help, even if that means leaving their own man to do so. The back side wings must then rotate to help on Randolph and company to ensure that they don’t get easy position to score.
In terms of the post, the Grizzlies will try to post up multiple players, but especially Randolph and, to a lesser extent, Prince. The Lakers would be wise to help off everyone and make Mike Miller, Bayless, and Conley prove they can hit the three ball before changing their philosophy. The Grizz will win this game if they dominate the inside. If they are allowed to do so, that’s the Lakers’ fault and it is unacceptable. If they win because they are lights-out from behind the arc, the Lakers will just have to tip their cap and go home with a loss.
Where you can watch: 5:00pm start on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.