Grizzlies: Ja Morant, Tyus Jones?, Desmond Bane, Jaren Jackson Jr., Steven Adams
Lakers: Russell Westbrook, Wayne Ellington, Avery Bradley, LeBron James, Dwight Howard
Grizzlies: Sam Merrill; Ziaire Williams; Out due to Health & Safety Protocols: Dillon Brooks, Jarrett Culver, John Konchar, De’Anthony Melton
Lakers: LeBron James (probable); Anthony Davis (out); Kendrick Nunn (out); Austin Reaves (out); Kent Bazemore (out); Out due to Health & Safety Protocols: Trevor Ariza
First, the good news: the Lakers won their last game, beating the Rockets after downsizing their lineup and docking their boat on the shores of No Big Island. LeBron started at Center, neither Dwight nor DeAndre played a minute, and team ended up playing Melo and the recently signed Stanley Johnson at the back up 5 spot most of the night. Quite the turn of events for a team that began the season with DeAndre in the starting group next to both AD and Bron in the frontcourt. It was a much needed win, regardless of circumstances, and while there were things I’d have liked to have seen done better, I’ll take the result.
In other good news, both Austin Reaves and Kent Bazemore have cleared the NBA’s health and safety protocols. Neither will play vs. the Grizzlies (recovery/conditioning), but both should be available on Friday. That leaves only Ariza and Frank Vogel as still in the protocols, meaning this team is close to being whole again. Once that happens, the team will need to make some decisions on both Johnson and Darren Collison and whether they’d like to keep them and, if so, how to accomplish that considering the fullness of the roster, but that’s a conversation for another day.
As for the Grizzlies, they’re in a similar spot that the Lakers were in a week ago in terms of health and who’s available/not to play. In Brooks and Melton, they’re down two guys who could viably start at SG next to Ja Morant. In Merrill and Konchar, they’re down two role-player types who have been positive contributors in more limited minutes this season. And then in Culver they’re down a guy who barely played, but had a couple of good shifts against the Lakers the last time these teams played, mostly has a hustle and “try hard” guy who was chasing down 50/50 balls, running the floor, and defending hard.
So, while the Grizz still have plenty of their core guys around — including both Ja and JJJ — they’re not a whole team, particularly in the backcourt. Adjustments will be needed in terms of their rotation and staggering of guys, especially if Tyus Jones ends up starting next to Ja because of all their absences. Related, how this team manages their frontcourt rotation and how they deploy guys like Xavier Tillman, Brandon Clarke, and Kyle Anderson considering how much JJJ will play and that Adams will start is also something to watch. Could the Grizz turn to huge lineups that slide Anderson down to SF? Could they play JJJ, Clarke, and Tillman together in mishmash lineups just to soak up minutes?
These questions are even more important and interesting considering the shifts the Lakers made against the Rockets and how much they’ve been playing smaller in general. While I do not think LeBron will start at C against Adams (though anything is possible, I suppose), I don’t think whoever does start at C (my guess would be Dwight) would play more than two shifts. Which means a team full of bigs (Grizz) will be facing off against a team full of guards/wings (Lakers) in a weird contrast of available talents and style of play. Which side prevails and what groups can succeed vs. their counterparts will be interesting to see play out in real time.
In the big picture, though, this game will pretty much come down to the team’s stars and which duo can impact the game most. On the Grizz side, Morant is a killer and if the Lakers play drop coverages, they’ll die a slow death vs. Ja drives and finishes in the lane. JJJ, meanwhile, will mix between popping for 3’s and diving/posting vs. smaller defenders. My hope, then, is that the Lakers mix in switching and trapping vs. Ja to make him a passer and then send doubles at JJJ when necessary to keep him off balance. The hope, then, is to limit their shot attempts and then hope your defense can be sound enough to keep the likes of Bane and Anderson contained enough to limit the Grizz offense over the course of a full night.
On the Lakers side, Russ and Bron are going to need to dictate the terms of engagement via pace and transition chances. They’ll need to spread the floor and run, spacing them out and trying to get into the paint to finish vs. an emptied paint. They’ll also both need to hit some outside shots (Bron especially), greasing the wheels for those driving lanes to stay clear. If both can have efficient scoring nights, it will also help slot the role players (particularly Monk and Melo) appropriately and, if they can be productive, give the team a chance to keep it close.
Lastly, the Lakers must be better in the possessions game. The Lakers will need to gang rebound defensively, especially vs. the lineups where Adams is in the game. He’s such a load in the paint and he can get the Grizz extra chances that, over the course of the game, add up and force the Lakers to win too many defensive possessions. Additionally, the Lakers need to protect the ball and avoid turnovers. I know, I know…Russ is going to turn the ball over and you just have to live with that some. But, some of the mistakes he (and, to be fair, others) makes can be avoided with better focus. The Grizz are dynamic enough in transition to really hurt the Lakers if they’re turnover happy.
I’m not going to lie — I don’t expect the Lakers to win this game. It’s a back to back vs. a young and hungry Grizz team that will play hard. But, LeBron is playing amazing of late and if the team can commit defensively and hit some 3’s, they’ll have a shot. I’m interested to see what they have in them tonight.
Where you can watch: 5:00pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet and NBA TV.