The Memphis Grizzlies, sans their dynamic duo of Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant, put together three hard-fought quarters versus the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday. Despite the fact that the Grizzlies were plagued by ice-cold shooting throughout, the Lakers only held a mere two-point lead at the end of three thanks to an excellent collective effort on the defensive end by the Grizzlies. But once the final frame commenced, LeBron James carried the purple and gold on his back, scoring at will and finding open shooters once Memphis threw double-teams his way. The masterful late-game performance from James allowed the Lakers to finally gain separation — Los Angeles ended up defeating the Grizzlies by 14 points, 94-108.
The absence of Memphis’ two stars was overwhelmingly glaring across the final 12 minutes of action. Without their young guns, there was no de facto shot creator that the Grizzlies could go to for consistent buckets. The Lakers ran the uber-effective high pick-and-roll with LeBron for a number of possessions to close this one out, while the Grizzlies had little to no cohesion on offense — multiple players were set up to score as the team desperately searched for a hot hand, but the effort was in vain.
Egregious shooting woes aside, there were positives to take away from the Grizzlies’ loss. Specifically, this team competed in accordance with the Grizzlies standard — Memphis didn’t back down from the challenge despite being undermanned; they played to win and weren’t interested in moral victories. This defeat came down to the reality that the Lakers have LeBron James and Memphis doesn’t — meaning there’s no shame in losing in the manner the Grizzlies did.
The Beale Street Bears will aspire to replicate their tenacious effort and continuous ball movement from the game prior on Tuesday. I reached out to Alex Regla, formerly of Silver Screen and Roll and Bleacher Report, to learn more about this Lakers squad ahead of the face-off between Western Conference foes.
1. It’s well-documented that the Lakers had little time to prepare for the 2020-21 campaign. Have you noticed any indications of sluggishness or fatigue from the purple and gold?
The short answer is yes. But, It is difficult to decipher what is sluggishness or fatigue versus simple ramp up time. LeBron James is famous for finding moments in-game where he can catch his breath, and preserve his body. I think we are seeing that with Anthony Davis early on as well, most notably through his uptick in jumpshots compared to his shot frequency at the rim (he only attempted one field-goal at basket in the Lakers’ first matchup with Memphis).
There is also the sheer championship hangover theory that likely also has and will play a role for the first month or so of games. The defense has not been sharp, but I think a lot of that should be accounted for effort and an expected adjustment period for a new roster to get on the same page.
2. LeBron James and Anthony Davis are both perennial MVP candidates. Which of the two superstars has the best chance at taking home the coveted award this season?
I think heading into the year Anthony Davis would be the most likely answer, and that is probably still the same answer. Fresh off what was individually a historic playoff run, many assumed he would enter the season with the same approach and desire to cement himself as one the league’s best.
Early on however, LeBron James has been the player who not only sets the table for the team, but has flashed that extra gear needed to secure a few of these wins, most notably his excellent fourth quarter against the Grizzlies.
I would still lean Davis in terms of individual chances, especially given his defense and effort looks to be rounding back into shape, but it will be interesting to see how much of their usage and minutes are dialed back given the new weapons/pieces on the roster. And what impact this will have on their general boxscore numbers.
3. Are the Lakers better off with Montrezl Harrell and Marc Gasol as their bigs as opposed to Javale McGee and Dwight Howard?
It’s tough to answer that so early into the year and when considering the previous front court helped win a championship. Granted, Davis was the predominant center in crucial moments and games in the playoffs, but JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard both proved pivotal pieces in helping shape the team to the defensive monster they became through their athleticism and ability to protect the rim.
On paper, the likes of Marc Gasol and Montrezl Harrell do appear to be obvious upgrades, specifically on offense. And after some shaky performances early on, both have also begun showing solid signs in being positive additions to the defense, Gasol in particular.
Frank Vogel has been asked about the differences between his new and previous front courts a few times already, and one of the recurring answers is the aspect of vertical rim protection versus positional defense. Neither Gasol or Harrell are elite shot blockers, so the team has needed to adjust schematically to optimize the skills they do have in order to maintain their strength on defense.
On offense, both have already flashed promising returns, and the team has made significant strides within their half-court scoring and offensive rating overall thanks to their new additions.
4. What’s your first impression of Dennis Schroeder in a Laker uniform, and is he primed to make another run at the sixth man of the year award in 2020-21?
My first impression of Dennis Schröder is he’s fast as hell. But also, cognizant of it and how to leverage his speed advantage in getting to the rim. He’s also a better defender than I realized, and his career best perimeter shooting marks carrying over from the Thunder early on has been a big development.
He is currently starting, and his intentions of not necessarily being a fan of coming off the bench anymore prior to the season makes me believe that he will not be in the running for that award this year. But Vogel has stated that rotation changes could always happen, and this initial stretch of the year will be somewhat of an experiment.
5. Where do you project the Grizzlies will be in the Western Conference standings once the season is all said and done?
As a person who has many friends within draft twitter, I was really excited about how Memphis constructed their roster and was intrigued to see if their development would be linear. Unfortunately, the injuries early on for the team derailed that early season optimism, but I am still relatively high on their trajectory.
That said, the Western Conference still is pretty tough and teams who were outside of the playoffs last season, namely Phoenix, Sacramento and Golden State looked primed to make a run for the playoffs. I think ultimately the Grizzlies will end up around where they were last season, and in a dogfight for that final spot.
Maybe even a potential first round matchup with the Lakers, perhaps?
Make sure to follow Alex on Twitter @AlexMRegla and check out his Lakers newsletter, Throwdowns!