Let’s get the formalities out of the way first: Kobe Bryant is expected to play tonight, per Byron Scott. He will also travel with the team to Phoenix with the hope of playing in Wednesday’s match up vs. the Suns — his last in Phoenix. This isn’t the first time we have heard in the morning that Kobe would play, only to have that end up not being true. However, considering the days off the Lakers have had and the fact Kobe’s not played since March 13th, I would imagine he gives it a go tonight.
The second “injury” note is that Larry Nance, Jr. will not play tonight. Coming out of the All-Star break and after dealing with a sore knee, Nance was ruled out of back to back games. Rather than sit out the 2nd half of the back to back, Nance will sit out the front end against the Grizzlies and be available on Wednesday against the Suns. The Lakers, then, will be somewhat shorthanded this game, especially on the wing where Nance has been moonlighting of late. This means you should expect to see some Ryan Kelly, if SF must go three players deep (behind Kobe and Metta).
These roster concerns, though, pale in comparison to what the Grizzlies are going through right now. Due to a boatload of injuries and a trade deadline which saw them say goodbye to some rotation players, the Grizzlies are beyond banged up. Rather than list everyone who is hurt, it’s better to just say the only players you are likely to recognize on this roster are Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, Vince Carter, Matt Barnes, and Lance Stephenson. Oh, and you’ll also remember our old friend Jordan
Clarkson Farmar who was recently added as an injury replacement.
This, however, hasn’t stopped the Grizz from grit & grinding their way to some wins. After a rough patch, they worked over the Clippers and then beat the Suns in back to back games. That may not seem like a huge deal, but for a team as banged up as Memphis who is also trying to hold onto their playoff spot, those victories are massively important.
What does this mean for tonight? Well, on the one hand the Grizz played on Monday and, when combined with their injuries, they should be a bit tired. That said, this team still poses some significant match up issues for this specific Lakers team which they can lean on to make traction.
The first of those is Zach Randolph who is playing some really good basketball lately — including getting a triple-double against the Clippers. He will give Julius Randle all he can handle, especially when it comes to using craftiness and when earning position on quick duck-ins. Randle will need to show better awareness defensively than he has this year, especially when moving into help position and then back to finding a relocated Randolph.
The other thing the Lakers need to watch out for are leakouts from the Grizzlies’ wings. Memphis doesn’t play very fast in general, but smart teams know to leverage their athleticism on the wing to get easy baskets. The Grizz have two players — Stephenson and Barnes — who love to create scoring chances in the open court and both will look to feast on the Lakers’ poor transition defense in this game. Finding better floor balance and getting their bigs back defensively should be a Lakers’ priority this game. If it is not, they will suffer for it.
Lastly, what I am really looking for is the Lakers young backcourt to find their stride again. After a sustained stretch of good basketball, both Clarkson and Russell have not played well lately. When Lou Williams returned from injury and Marelo Huertas stuck in the rotation, both players’ minutes went down and both often found themselves on the bench together for longer stretches. They have not responded well to the new lineup configurations, but need to bounce back soon. The Grizz offer veteran wings who will pester them defensively, but they need to overcome that and find their stride again.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet and nationally on TNT. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.