WHEN: 8:30 PM CT
WHERE: Staples Center in Los Angeles, California
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Bally Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP:
L.A. LAKERS: Russell Westbrook, Kent Bazemore, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, DeAndre Jordan
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, De’Anthony Melton, Desmond Bane, Jaren Jackson Jr., Steven Adams
Talk about deja vu.
Less than 24 hours after the Grizzlies defeated Paul George and the Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis returns to the same arena to take on L.A.’s other squad. You may have heard of them - they’re in the news pretty regularly. And while it seems they’re not on the same page at the moment, they still have two of the best five or so players on the planet on their roster in LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Even with all the chaos seemingly surrounding them, with those two in the fold, any game is a winnable game for the Lakers.
Maybe the Grizzlies are more confident than they’d normally be in their first game on the second night of a back to back on the season because it’s in the same city. Perhaps Memphis feels good about how genuinely happy/comfortable they are with their team chemistry...especially when compared to the current state of the Lakers. But regardless of the reason, this contest seems more winnable than it should be.
Here’s some ways the Grizzlies can make it happen.
Attack the mismatches
The funny thing about the way the Lakers have built their roster - very, very top-heavy with James, Davis, and Russell Westbrook in terms of salary - is that depth is not the strong suit of Los Angeles. Sure, in theory Kent Bazemore, DeAndre Jordan, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, Rajon Rondo...those guys should strike fear in the hearts of all players being next to this big three - if the year was 2014. But this is 2021, and while having as many as six potential future Hall of Famers (James/Davis/Westbrook/Howard/Anthony/Rondo) is impressive it doesn’t automatically mean you’re playing elite-level basketball. Which, at 0-2, clearly the Lakers are not currently.
The Grizzlies haven’t seen the same level of competition as the Lakers yet, but at the same time there are openings across the Memphis roster to try to take advantage of. Desmond Bane and De’Anthony Melton both are more active/have more athleticism at this stage than Bazemore. Any time Jaren Jackson Jr. has a chance to have DeAndre Jordan or Dwight Howard on him, taking them away from the perimeter, he has to take advantage of it with his handle/creation off the dribble.
LeBron and AD are studs. Russ will eventually figure it out - maybe tonight. But below those three, while there is talent there is also opportunity for Memphis to score and run. The Grizzlies have the younger legs, and while they may not be more fresh after playing the night before they surely are more able to recover more quickly at this stage. Perhaps the reserves will be inspired to make up for their lackluster showing last night as well.
Keep the offense cutting
One of the more noticeable early differences in the Grizzlies offense without Jonas Valanciunas (and, to be fair, without Dillon Brooks for now) has been the decrease in ball-stopping isolation sets and an increase in cutting off the ball to the rim. Valanciunas was arguably the best Grizzlies player over the last two years (I would disagree, but there’s an argument) and was a safety net for the Memphis offense when it would flail and fall at times. However, with his exit there is no longer a need to feed the post to ensure Jonas is involved in his most effective manner. Because of that, and because of his replacement Steven Adams doing a lot of what Jonas does well as a screener almost as well as Jonas, the offense is much more mobile and dependent on that movement to keep them afloat.
To this point, so far it is having some success. The Cavaliers struggled mightily defending the Grizzlies, and against the Clippers and their higher level of competition they still made good decisions and found one another at and around the bucket. That should continue to happen - as long as the Memphis Grizzlies hope to remain competitive on this road trip.
The Grizzlies are right back in action after last night’s showdown with with Clippers. Against the Lakers at another time this season, once they get it figured out? Perhaps L.A. runs away with it. But Memphis is cohesive and focused. The Lakers...are not at the moment. And while LeBron and company winning this game in no way would be a surprise, give me the Grizzlies in a tight one where the bench plays much better than it did last night in the same building.
Memphis 122, L.A. Lakers 119