WHERE: Staples Center in Los Angeles, California
WHEN: 8:30 PM CT
HOW TO WATCH: Fox Sports Southeast/ 92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS- Ben McLemore (Out, Right Foot), Wayne Selden Jr. (Out, Quad), JaMychal Green (Out, Left Ankle), Mike Conley (Questionable, Achilles), Marc Gasol (Questionable, Ankle)
LOS ANGELES- Larry Nance (Out, Left Hand), Andrew Bogut (Questionable, Back)
MEMPHIS- Mike Conley, Dillon Brooks, James Ennis III, Jarell Martin, Marc Gasol
LOS ANGELES- Lonzo Ball, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Brook Lopez
The Memphis Grizzlies are on their second night of a Los Angeles back-to-back. After beating the Clippers on Saturday afternoon, Memphis will now play the Lakers on Sunday night.
This is the first time Memphis will get to see Lonzo Ball in action. Ball has an incredible hype around him because of his skill set and his father, but let’s not forget that the butt of the jokes is his father, not Lonzo. Lavar is fun, but doesn’t really contribute anything to this game against the Grizzlies. His son however, is going to be a problem in that regard.
Lonzo Ball, like other young Lakers such as Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma, have shown some promise this season. They’re going to be set in the future, but what does that mean for this game tonight? Well, a team this young shouldn’t be as good as they are on defense, but they are. They are the youngest team in the NBA and yet, 7th in the league in defensive rating. That’s a huge contrast from where they were a year ago, where the Lakers were the last place defense in the Association.
This team is hugely different. The starting lineup has just 2 of the same 5 from a year ago. According to basketball-reference.com, the Los Angeles Lakers return just 46% of their production from 2016-17. That’s good for the 4th-least amount of production returned for the 2017-18 season.
This season is early, so you may have a lot of learning to do about these young Lakers. Before the Sunday night contest, here are some notable keys to be familiar with.
Lakers Improving Defense
The Lakers were the worst defense in the NBA a year ago. 30th in defensive rating, 30th in opponent field goal percentage, and 26th in opponent three-point field goal percentage. In the first 9 games of 2017-18, the Lakers are 7th, 13th, and 5th in those categories heading into Sunday. A lot of that is to big changes in the roster construction. D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mosgov were swapped for Brook Lopez and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who are both far superior defenders.
KCP specifically is a very good perimeter defender. D’Angelo Russell was a turnstile a year ago and TImofey Mosgov is uh, bad. Memphis’ offense can be stagnant against even average defenses, so it’s going to be important to see if Memphis can be consistent against the Lakers tonight without depending on 8-0 runs driven solely by Tyreke Evans or Mario Chalmers. MIke Conley looked good against the Clippers on Saturday and he needs to keep up his good shooting for Memphis to win.
Walton Without Warriors
The way this team is set up, their offense is kind of forced to be balanced in terms of scoring distribution. They are super young without any All-Star to depend on while Lonzo and Brandon Ingram develop. As a result, they have 7 players averaging double figures in points and 5 players averaging between 11 and 13 field goal attempts a game.
Luke Walton’s system includes a lot of movement and sharing the ball, much like the Warriors system from which Walton came. It doesn’t work quite as well when you’re replacing Steph Curry and Klay Thompson with Lonzo Ball and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in your personnel. It’s fine for how young this team is, and there’s no reason to think this group of players would be a great offense in a year or two or even a lot better later this year. Luke Walton seems to be a good young coach himself. Patience will be key for the Lakers, unless they get LeBron next year...then just nevermind about anything I said.
Lonzo Ball has shown a lot of potential and feel for the game, but he’s not super in sync with the Lakers offense quite yet. They score more with Ball off the court than they do on the court. He is showing effort on defense and can run in transition at an NBA level. But that doesn’t help his currently abysmal shooting numbers (.308/.256/.500). What does, is his passing and the fact that he is an immediate threat in transition. He’s logging the most minutes for this team because he’s the franchise’s gem and it’ll work in time, but the Lakers won’t turn into an elite offense overnight while Ball develops this season.
Memphis is on the second game of a back-to-back on which they played well the first game. This team has been inconsistent lately, so I’m tempted to assume that just because they did well and won on Saturday that they’re going to lose a big lead and lose Sunday to the Lakers. Memphis didn’t do well in both games in their first back-to-back this season. It wouldn’t be the least surprising thing for Memphis to fall flat on Sunday.
And yet, it’s a new year and I’m going to be optimistic. Memphis has a solid bench that can and has shouldered the load if and when Marc Gasol and Mike Conley aren’t at their best on a given night. The Lakers play very fast, 3rd highest pace in the league, so don’t be surprise if it’s a high scoring game now that Memphis can reasonably play in transition and switch on screens. But Memphis is a much better team than Los Angeles, so they’re going to end up getting the W.
Memphis 110, Los Angeles 101