Remember when the Lakers played the Grizzlies in Memphis and lost even though they were missing Mike Conley, Zach Randolph, Chandler Parsons, and others? I don’t blame you if you want to forget, but it actually did happen. Yes, the game was close and the Lakers were at the end of a brutal 4 game in 5 night stretch that saw them travel thousands of miles, but how it went is how it went.
Well, tonight the Grizz are in Los Angeles and have been there for a couple of days after a New Year’s Eve game in Sacramento. And this time they have Conley back, Z-Bo back, and Parsons back. Marc Gasol does have a sprained ankle, but after a couple of days off he could still play.
In other words, after the Lakers lost to a very depleted Memphis team, now they have to play the Grizz at (basically) full strength. If you think this is a problem, you would be correct.
The Lakers are, however, coming off a good showing against the Raptors, playing them tightly most of the night and then fighting back at the end after Toronto made a push to start the 4th quarter which could have had the Lakers packing it in. Instead they battled until the end with D’Angelo Russell pouring in the buckets and Julius Randle bringing a strong effort defensively to force some needed turnovers. It was all for naught, but the game itself reminded me of some of the early season contests which showed off the team’s fighting spirit even if the result went against them.
As for tonight’s game, can the Raptors’ game serve as a stepping stone for this one? Can the Lakers put together another good game against a playoff caliber opponent? Can they maintain some “positive” momentum in quality and effort level? Or will it be a one step forward, two step back cycle we have seen a lot of lately? Remember, a recent nice showing against the Jazz turned into a disaster of an effort against a pretty bad Mavericks team just a couple of nights later. This team truly is capable of anything — good and bad.
From a match up standpoint, one thing I am interested in seeing is whether the Tarik Black/Thomas Robinson duo can match some of the success they had against the Raptors. The former Jayhawks pairing pounded Toronto on the backboards and created a lot of second chance opportunities for a Lakers’ offense which was having trouble converting shots. If Black/Robinson can keep up that level of activity and have similar results against a much more rugged Memphis team, it would go a long way towards convincing me that lineups featuring both have some staying power.
Another match up worth watching is at the point where two former Ohio State Buckeyes go head to head. Mike Conley returned early from a fractured back (read that again!) and has played tremendous. Meanwhile, Russell has continued to be up and down, but has done a good job of running the offense, getting to key spots on the floor, and, as noted earlier, just had a big scoring night on Sunday. Conley can be a terror on both ends, so this stands to be a great test for Russell.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet and NBA TV.