Preview and Chat: Lakers vs. Grizzlies

Darius Soriano —  February 26, 2014

Just as I said there was no reprieve for the downtrodden in my preview for Tuesday’s match up with the Pacers, there is no rest for the weary as the Lakers head into Memphis today to face the Grizzlies on the second night of a back to back. The Lakers took another loss on the chin in Indiana, with the trend of a relatively close first half turning into a blowout loss continuing for the umpteenth time this year.

After that game the Lakers’ two veterans with championship experience spoke their minds about their team and, not so subtly, took shots at their head coach in the process:

As I mentioned after the game, comments like these are rarely the response to the game that was just played — especially when said game was against one of the league’s best teams. No, these are more likely issues that have been brewing for some time and, with another 20 point loss, came to a head last night.

As mentioned, Pau and Jordan are the only two Lakers who have championship experience on this roster. They, more than their teammates, have an intimate knowledge of competing at the highest levels with the stakes are highest. For that reason, I tend to give their comments a bit more weight — though, if these words came from any other Laker I would still see them as valuable and informative.

It should also be noted, however, that Pau and Jordan are players who likely have the most individual reasons to speak out at this point in the year. It’s no secret that Pau hasn’t looked to fondly at his role within D’Antoni’s offense or how the big men have been used in general. He’s recently commented about a preference to play bigger lineups (again mentioning that playing small hurts the team last night) and has talked about running the offense more through the post since this coach’s arrival last year. Farmar, meanwhile, is in a real timeshare at point guard with Kendall Marshall, playing only 24.5 minutes a night his last 5 games and only 24 minutes a night in his last 10. Add to this that he’ll no longer likely see any minutes in a small backcourt next to Marshall with the arrival of Brooks and Bazemore (as well as Meeks’ return from injury), and a thirst for heavy minutes (30+ a night) will not be quenched the remainder of this year as long as relative good health endures for the rest of the perimeter players.

I’m not saying these issues should make statements made by these guys less true or that they should hold less weight, but it’d be disingenuous to not mention these things. Especially with both players entering free agency this summer.

In any event, it will be interesting to see how D’Antoni navigates these waters over the last part of the season. One of the main strengths of this team this year has been their willingness to play as a unit and not speak too much in terms of their individual goals. Credit should be given to the coach for this (as well as the players), but as the losses mount and other pieces who have not been part of the team’s fabric of unselfishness are incorporated into the group, this situation can get more difficult to manage quickly. If the Lakers are evaluating D’Antoni using other variables besides wins and losses, managing the players’ egos and keeping a healthy locker room is likely one of the key areas and he will need to show he’s able to perform in this area (and better than he did last year, I’d imagine).

As for tonight’s game against the Grizz, one of the key things to watch is the coach’s lineup construction and how he matches up with the size his group will face.

Starting Wes Johnson at PF seems like a real possibility and he will be tasked with guarding Zach Randolph. Z-Bo is that rare mix of a finesse finisher who gets position on the block like a bull, so Wes will have his hands full in trying to keep Zach off his spots. Doing so without fouling will be even more difficult. My hunch is that we’ll see a fair amount of Kaman and Hill tonight (and probably even Sacre) to try and battle Randolph down low, but Wes will get his shot too and how he performs will, at least in part, reflect on the coach who put him in this position.

Another defensive question that must be answered is who guards Mike Conley. The Lakers have tried to hide Kendall Marshall in certain match ups and one against Conley would be one that makes sense to do so again. Conley’s quickness and ability to create shots in the half court for himself or teammates by working off the dribble is an area that Marshall can struggle to contain. Putting Bazemore or Meeks on Conley might make more sense, but that leaves open the question of who Marshall then guards. Lee is a fine off-ball worker who has regained some of the form offensively that had him as one of the more respected role-player-guards in the league. Tayshaun Prince isn’t much of an offensive threat, but he’s a fine post up option against smaller players. Putting Marshall on either player presents issues that would need to be addressed and can create holes in a defensive scheme that is already extremely leaky.

On the other end of the floor the Lakers should try to establish the post early and hope that Pau can find his groove against his brother Marc to a level that creates openings on the perimeter for the Lakers’ wings to get (and make) open threes. The team would also be wise to involve Randolph in enough P&R’s defensively that Marc Gasol is forced into help situations early in possessions with the result being other players having to recover on the weak side to Pau and shooters posted in the corner. If the Lakers can get the Grizz scrambling defensively, they can hang tough in this game. If they can do so in the 2nd half, they can even be close down the stretch where anything can happen.

Of course, that’s a lot of ifs. And the Lakers are severe underdogs for that exact reason. But if the goal is still to compete and win games down the stretch, these are things they’ll need to do well. And if they want to erase some of those hard feelings expressed after the Pacers’ game, being competitive in (or even winning) a game like this would help do that.

Where you can watch: 5pm start time out West on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.

Darius Soriano

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