After traveling to San Antonio and beating the Spurs in back to back games, the Lakers road trip continues with a visit to Memphis to battle the banged up Grizzlies. Like with the Spurs, the Lakers will stay in Memphis to play the Grizz twice in order to satisfy a schedule dictated by the pandemic.
As noted, the Grizzlies are banged up and are down several guys, including their two best players. Jaren Jackson Jr. has yet to play a game this season while dealing with a knee issue. And then 2nd year point guard Ja Morant is out for 3-5 weeks after suffering a nasty ankle sprain.
Missing either player is a major blow, but Morant being out is an absolute killer. During the preseason and then to start this year he looked as though he’d taken a sizable leap off an already impressive rookie season, dazzling with his scoring and playmaking. I hope he heals up soon and is able to get back on the floor good as new because he’s truly one of the NBA’s most exciting players to watch night to night.
While Memphis is surely less talented now, some good players remain and they’re still going to play hard and will offer some challenges, particularly if the Lakers don’t come out with the requiste effort. In Kyle Anderson, Jonas Valanciunas, Dillon Brooks, and Brandon Clarke the team still has 4 double digit scorers who will all compete defensively. Again, these players aren’t going to reach the top end that the Lakers best players can, but they’re going to come out today and take it to LA on both ends of the floor. The Lakers need to be ready.
The hope for me, then, is simply that the Lakers bring the requisite effort. It’s very easy to take your foot off the gas when the other team is down their top guys. So, I’m looking for LeBron and, even moreso, Anthony Davis to come out and set a tone early that they’re going to play hard and look to exploit their advantages on both ends. Play pressure defense, look to get out in transition, and then work the gaps of the Grizz defense in the halfcourt to dominate the paint.
If they can do that, the outside shots will come more easily and the Lakers can create the open looks they’ve been knocking down at a high rate to begin the year. I’m especially looking at Schröder to continue his strong shooting and for Wes to hit a couple of early ones to build on some of the momentum he established in San Antonio — particularly if KCP isn’t able to go after spraining his ankle on Friday.
Overall, though, there’s not a lot that can happen this game that won’t be solved by playing hard. I hate to keep hammering that point home, but it’s really the one thing that matters today. The talent the Lakers possess and have available relative to Memphis is just so much higher that the only way they lose this one is by thinking they can just show up and do as little as possible. That will not be the case.
So, set the tone early, carry it through the rest of the game, and continue the momentum from San Antonio.
Where you can watch: 3:00pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet.