The Lakers are coming off a good win against the Brooklyn Nets, a contest that brought them only a game below .500 behind some strong performances by Brook Lopez, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma. The Lakers new look front court scored, rebounded, and defended well as a trio and really set the tone for the game by taking turns carrying the team each half.
If the Lakers being 4-5 is a surprise, their opponent tonight, the Memphis Grizzlies, coming in at 6-3 and 3rd in the Western Conference is even more of one. It’s hard to ever fully count out the Grizz, but after letting Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, and Vince Carter walk in free agency it was expected there would be a shift in identity from the “grit and grind” moniker the team had come to embody over the past decade. And, with that type of shift and loss of depth, they may end up being a fringe playoff team or out of the postseason entirely.
Of course, that could still end up being true after the slog of an 82 game season. But, as things stand now, the Grizzlies still have Marc Gasol and Mike Conley and that’s what really matters. Because as long as that’s the case, counting them out is (seemingly) a mistake as their 6-3 record reflects. Take that for data.
While on the topic of Gasol and Conley, they are the key to the entire game plan and must be at least moderately contained if the Lakers are to have a shot at winning this game. While both are complete players who can both impact the game on both ends of the floor, we’ll focus mostly on their offense here.
Conley must be kept out of the paint, where he thrives on shooting floaters and shots at the rim to create buckets for himself and teammates off OReb chances. Conley’s only shooting 26.1% from distance so far this year, and while that will surely improve, I hope the Lakers force him to hit those shots early in the game rather than playing him as a shot maker out there. Keep him out the paint at all costs and see how far that gets you.
As for Gasol, he’s actually hitting 39% of his shots from distance and must be run off the line and turned into a driver where help can seal him off before he gets to the rim. The Lakers — especially Brook Lopez — have not done well tracking big men who can shoot from deep this year, so this will be a challenge. That said, Gasol attempts nearly 5 shots from deep a game and he’s comfortable hanging back and bombing away. Turn those into 18 footers and you have a better chance of making his life harder.
On the other end of the floor, the Lakers must continue to play fast but also look to move the ball early in the clock. Memphis is currently 4th in defensive rating on the season and if the Lakers get into a halfcourt battle with them, they’ll lose. The Lakers need to attack in early offense, not just by getting shots in transition, but by moving the ball and shifting sides of the floor in the process. No matter how great a team is defensively, if you can get them into scramble situations early in the clock and force them into rotations from side to side, you have a better chance of being successful.
Regarding individual matchups, I am interested in seeing if Brook Lopez can continue his good play from the Portland and Brooklyn games. Gasol is one of the best defensive bigs in the league, so it might be asking too much for Lopez to have the same type of impact he’s had the past two games, but it’s clear that when he has it going the Lakers can elevate to a new level on O. If he can hit shots and get some work done in the post, it will go a long way towards keeping the Lakers in this game.
I also want to see Lonzo find his stride a bit. He went from not being involved offensively at all vs. the Blazers to being really aggressive vs. the Nets. Neither approach really paid off for him individually, though his assertiveness vs. the Nets certainly helped set the tone for the team and afterwards coach Walton said he wants Lonzo aggressive at all times.
While I mostly agree and appreciate this sentiment, I also want Lonzo to remember the old Wooden phrase of “be quick, but don’t hurry.” Lonzo looked very much in a hurry against the Nets and it put him in positions where he had little option but to try to shoot a heavily contested shot at the rim. Don’t get me wrong, I want him pushing the pace in the open court and looking to come off picks with urgency in an attempt to get downhill. I also want him to read what the defense is doing to him and respond accordingly. Sometimes that drive all the way to the rim is not the play, but a floater is. Or maybe it’s the pull up when the defensive big drops well below the level of the pick.
These are reads Lonzo has already shown he can make, but he was not making them as consistently against the Nets. Hopefully that changes against he Grizzlies. If it does and if Kuzma, Ingram, and the bench continue to score well, the Lakers could be in this game the entire way. That’s a lot of ifs, but playing at home I’m interested in seeing how the Lakers put it all together against a really good team.
Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet.