In what many are describing the worst 6 game winning streak in Lakers history, this team has not lost in a while. Not since losing to the Pistons in the 2nd game of a back to back while on that 7-game, 11 day road trip. This streak has not been pretty, with the last 3 wins requiring overtime to beat teams that will not make the playoffs. That said, even if all wins are not created equal, they all count the same in the standings. With the Grizzlies in town tonight, the Lakers will try to keep this thing going, even if they’d prefer the process of getting there is improved.
Even though the Lakers are banged up — AD is still questionable with his achilles tendinosis — they’ll get no sympathy from the Grizz. Their injury report is extensive, with Jaren Jackson Jr. still out, Brandon Clarke joining him, and rookie Desmond Bane back home with family mourning the death of his grandmother. These are important players for Memphis and having them out means more of a lift for those who are available.
Luckily for the Grizzlies, one of those players is Ja Morant. While I think we throw the word “star” and “superstar” around a bit too often, Morant is clearly the former and his way to becoming the latter. The 2nd year point guard is an electric scorer and playmaker, the type of dynamic lead ball handler every team would love to have. He is the rare talent who can be ferocious and patient, poised and explosive. He reads the game a step ahead and can play with a control that belies his experience, but his darting athleticism allows him to turn on the jets and attack a crevice at a moment’s notice.
The Lakers, then, will have their hands full. Dennis Schröder is sure to draw the assignment, but a player like Ja requires the attention of the full team. Marc Gasol will need to be as sharp as ever in his help responsibilities, and even if he is it may not mean he’s able to cut off the angles or deny the driving lanes that can lead to easy shots by Ja or his teammates when the defense collapses and he fires a pass to the open man.
I’ll be very interested to see how, if at all, the Lakers adjust to Morant’s athleticism and whether it leads them to going under more screens and try to tempt him into taking long jumpers as his primary defender recovers on the other side. This is a night where AD would really help in this regard, but without that certainty, we’ll just have to see how the rest of the team holds up.
Beyond Morant, the three players to key in on this game are Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, and Jonas Valan?i?nas. Gasol is the ideal type of defensive big to throw at the latter, so I’m less concerned about him via his own individual offense, but more within the context of his 2-man game with Morant. Other Lakers are going to have to help down on big Jonas when the time comes and they’ll have to play big and be strong if facing him in help situations.
As for Slow-Mo (Anderson) and Brooks, with this being the 3rd time these teams have faced off, the Lakers should know what to expect with both. Anderson’s pacing is, simply, awkward and adjusting to his tempo takes some time. I expect Bron to draw this assignment, so I’m mostly concerned with him showing enough respect for Anderson’s jumper than anything else. As for Brooks, he lit a fire under Bron in the last game and paid for it with a loss for his team. Brooks is a fiery competitor and doesn’t mind talking a little trash when he gets it going, so it’s going to be up to KCP and, now that he’s listed as probable, Caruso to turn that faucet off and keep him quiet.
Offensively, the Lakers need to find a way to create some easier baskets for themselves while also getting back to hitting some 3’s. I do not expect the Lakers to hunt transition chances as much as they did last season, but they need to do it more than they currently are. Rebound and look to run more and it will pay off over the course of the game. As for the long ball, it’s simple: make the open shots you’re getting. I’d love for KCP to break out of his extended slump, but beyond him it’d be big to have Kuz, THT, and even Alex knock a few down tonight. Teams will continue to pack the paint regardless of whether the Lakers make these shots or not, so they might as well hit them.
One final point on offense: take care of the ball. The Grizzlies are 2nd in the league in turnovers forced per game at 16.2. Meanwhile the Lakers are 24th in the league in committing turnovers with 15.1 giveaways a night. If this trend holds, the Grizz are going to get some easy scoring opportunities in the open court. Let’s try to avoid that, shall we?
This is the final game before a quick 2-game road trip that takes the team to Denver and Minnesota and then a game back in STATPLES vs. the Nets. In other words, it’s fairly easy to look ahead with a couple of games vs. strong teams in the next week. Memphis is the type of team that will capitalize on lack of focus. They play hard and would love nothing else than to avoid a season sweep by beating the Lakers in Los Angeles tonight. Bring the right level of attention and focus to this one, fellas.
Where you can watch: 7:00pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet and ESPN.