There a couple of different ways to look at the Lakers 109-108 win over the Grizzlies on Saturday night.
The first is that after playing on Friday night in a pretty physical and taxing game that came down to the wire, the Lakers found a way to beat a well rested Grizzlies team in their home arena just a night later. Road wins are always good. Road wins on the second night of a back to back are even better. These are games, regardless of opponent quality, that test you and the Lakers were able to win. This is great.
Further, the Lakers were able to win when clearly not playing their best and when down both Avery Bradley and Alex Caruso1Caruso sat out after re-aggravating his calf vs. the Thunder. — their two best on ball defensive guards. Teams short two key rotation players and while not playing to their normal level who can win a game under the circumstances I laid out in the paragraph above are…good teams. The Lakers, now 14-2, are clearly that.
The other way to look at this game, though, is that the Lakers have, for a few games now, not been playing to the level they were earlier in the year. Their defense has slipped, their attentiveness and discipline to do the right things on both sides of the ball is sporadic, and they seem to be trying to flip a switch during key stretches of games in order to win. This is, for the most part, enough…against the types of teams they’ve been facing. These sub-.500 teams don’t have the top end talent or deep roster quality to hang with the Lakers best effort, even if that’s only offered for 5-6 minute stretches at a time during 3rd or 4th quarter.
So, the Lakers are winning games. Saturday’s win over the Grizz was #7 in a row, the second time this team has reached that number in 16 games. But, I’d be lying if I said that how this team is playing right now inspires confidence. After the game, Frank Vogel said as much, saying that they’re not playing to the level he wants and that they’ll need to find their way back to that soon. If they don’t, they’ll lose soon enough. It’s just how it goes.
In saying all that, wins count the same regardless of how bad they look or the circumstances that surround them. And, I guess, that’s the biggest takeaway here. Would you rather be the Lakers and winning these games where they’re not at their best or would you rather be the Blazers who are near the bottom of the West after losing 6 of 7 games? I think we all know the answer.
Regarding the specifics of this game, there’s a couple of points to highlight.
One, Anthony Davis should be the frontrunner for defensive player of the year. He tallied 5 blocks and 3 steals vs. Memphis and with under 2 minutes to go in the game, forced a turnover and a missed shot after getting switched onto Ja Morant. The turnover came when the game was tied at 105 and the missed step-back jumper came with the Lakers up 2. Add in Davis’ monster 3 pointer to tie the game with 2 minutes left and his offensive rebound/put-back that put the Lakers up 4 with 54 seconds left and Davis deserves the game ball for this one.
Second, LeBron James continues to be a monster even when he’s not playing his best. 30 points on 14-27 shooting, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists is a career night for a lot of players, but there were for real moments when Bron looked out of sorts. He had 5 turnovers on the night, looked disinterested defensively for more than a handful of possessions, and just seemed to settle way too often for whatever okay shot he could muster himself rather than working the offense more to generate a really good look for himself or a teammate.
Again, it should be repeated, it’s not like LeBron was bad. That’s not the case at all, actually. Some of the plays he made and the numbers he put on the board were crucial towards the Lakers winning this game. It’s just…well…he wasn’t as good as we’ve come to expect through the early stages in this season — particularly with his turnovers. I said this in my recap for the Lakers win against the Thunder, too, it’s wild how easy it is to expect the world from Bron. But we’ve come to expect it because he gives it to us so often.
I guess, in the end, the best thing to say about him is that the Lakers are lucky to have him. He really is amazing and, in a weird way, the biggest testament to that is me nitpicking a 30 point, 6 rebound, 4 assist night.
Now, onto some notes….
- I mentioned Caruso and Bradley being out and that was a big development than for no other reason that Rajon Rondo ended up playing nearly 26 minutes on the night which is too many. Rondo had some nice plays in this game, including some really good assists and a couple of timely shots. That said, he also got picked on defensively, took 15 shots on the night2That’s one more than Anthony Davis took this game!, and his negative effect on spacing really did gum up the team’s halfcourt offense for significant stretches. I’ll say this again because I think it’s important: Rondo can be a useful player who helps the team, but a major key to that is keeping him in the right sized role; playing him the right number of minutes with the right players flanking him. That equation was not in balance vs. the Grizzlies even though he ended up with a positive plus/minus.
- A really rough night for Troy Daniels who, for this game at least, took Quinn Cook’s shifts. Daniels shot 1-5 on the night, including 1-4 on 3’s. For the season, Daniels is now 13-46 on 3’s (28.3%) and only shooting 32.2% from the field overall. Daniels does not bring enough intangibles or other contributions to the floor to shoot this poorly. I know the sample is small and I know his playing time is inconsistent. Still, though, he needs to shoot better than this.
- Another good game from KCP, which has become a trend of late. 12 points and made 3 of his 5 attempts from distance to go along with good defense.
- Kyle Kuzma…woof. 5 points in 25 minutes. A late game turnover that gave the Grizzlies life when a simple holding of the ball likely would have netted him FT’s. He did hit his only 3, which was nice. But, the Lakers need more from him and if they’d gotten just his baseline performance from his recent games, the Lakers probably win comfortably.
- Dwight was a -2 in the boxscore and fouled too much this game, but he also scored 10 points and led the team with 9 rebounds. He was physical in the paint and mostly did exactly what the Lakers needed him to do. In a game where a lot of the team’s role players did poorly, I thought Dwight was…fine. Which makes him wonderful when put in the context of how this game went.
That’s it for this one, folks.