WHEN: 8:30 PM CT
WHERE: crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, California
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Bally Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
INJURY REPORT: (Status for a few Grizzlies players on the injury report could change before the game.)
MEMPHIS: Steven Adams (Out, Health and Safety Protocols), Dillon Brooks (Out, ankle), John Konchar/Xavier Tillman Sr. (Questionable, Health and Safety Protocols), Kyle Anderson (Doubtful, back), Ja Morant (Doubtful, thigh), Yves Pons (Doubtful, ankle)
LOS ANGELES LAKERS: LeBron James (Probable, Abdomen), Anthony Davis (Out, Knee), Kendrick Nunn (Out, Knee)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Tyus Jones, Desmond Bane, De’Anthony Melton, Brandon Clarke, Jaren Jackson Jr.,
L.A. Lakers: LeBron James, Malik Monk, Russell Westbrook, Avery Bradley, Stanley Johnson
That may seem like an odd thing to talk about so early in the season for multiple reasons. For one, there is still half the season left to play. For another, specifically in regards to the Grizzlies, it has been five years since that phrase had any sort of relevance in regards to a Grizzlies season. However, it absolutely has been and will be a point of significance in many games moving forward.
This is one of the many changes that comes in evolving from a rebuilding team to a sustainable winner. Winning 18 of 22 games over a six week period changes a lot of conversations.
As a result, games such as yesterday and today become critical. With the 123-108 win over the Clippers, the Grizzlies not only earned a tie-breaker against another potential playoff team, they also are now 1.5 games behind Utah for the third spot in the Western Conference playoff picture. This is pretty amazing considering how hard the Grizzlies have been hit by the protocol and injury bug as of late, including Head Coach Taylor Jenkins now also being in health and safety protocols. Furthermore, the Grizzlies are remaining a sizeable distance ahead of other teams in the West that are starting to find their groove.
That includes the Lakers. Despite a less than ideal start to the season. the Lakers are starting to figure out how to make their offense work to win games. For one, they have transitioned to a small-ball, LeBron James at the five approach that simply offers more fluidity and spacing on offense. Secondly, they have found good offensive balance with the shooting of Malik Monk and others to support their production in the paint. Yet in the end, the Lakers also benefit from LeBron James simply playing like the best player in the world at the moment.
The Grizzlies were able to overcome an amazing LeBron performance when these two teams played two weeks ago in Memphis due to Ja Morant having a great performance of his own. Morant likely will be ready to go tonight, and he has scored 40 or more points in two straight games against LeBron and the Lakers. However, the Grizzlies cannot assume Morant will be this successful again. Memphis has to make life tough on the Lakers in a variety of ways in order to win.
Protect the Paint
Over the past few weeks, the Lakers lead the NBA in 2PFG%. With how well James is playing and the natural strengths of other players on their roster, this should not be a surprise. They are having plenty of success going downhill as of late.
For the Grizzlies, the absence of Steven Adams will likely be felt more tonight than it was yesterday. The combination of him and Jaren Jackson Jr. have done quite well to deter teams from finding their rhythm near the basket. This means that Brandon Clarke, who has been playing quite well himself as of late, must step up once again defensively. Forcing the Lakers into taking tough jumpers instead of consistently getting the rim would be a positive development for Memphis. If they make those shots, you can live it while hoping they run into a bit of a cold stretch at some point in the game.
Know Where Malik Monk is At All Times
The loss of Dillon Brooks in yesterday’s game will likely be felt at times over the next few games for the Grizzlies. Though Memphis has beat the Lakers without him in the recent past, he makes life so much easier for the rest of the Grizzlies defense. Yet Memphis should be better prepared for life without him than they were earlier this season.
While Lebron obviously has been the biggest reason for the Lakers recent success, Malik Monk has been outstanding over the past several games, emerging as one of the most productive shooters in the league since the holiday season. Monk is averaging nearly 22 points a game on 56% shooting and 48% from 3 over his past 10 games. He his attempting eight threes a game. Much like Desmond Bane has done for the Grizzlies, Monk has allowed the Lakers to benefit from offensive balance from distance to compliment their success near the basket.
As a result, the Grizzlies must force someone else other than Monk to step up and support James. While players such as Carmelo Anthony or Avery Bradley are capable of that, making life tough for Monk to get good looks should be a priority for the Grizzlies.
Even though the Lakers are without Anthony Davis, it should be no surprise they have finally figured out how to play winning basketball. This is why a win in tonight’s game is critical, because it gives the Grizzlies yet another playoff advantage over LeBron and the Lakers. With the Lakers being more than capable of continuing to surge in the second half of the season, that tiebreaker gives Memphis an extra layer of advantage if the standings were to become close once again.
The Grizzlies simply must prioritize finding the right shots consistently on offense, and protecting the paint on defense. Being aware of where Monk is at all times is critical. If a rested Morant is able to play, and Jaren Jackson Jr. can continue his good offensive play as of late, the Grizzlies can get their ninth win in a row. And not only will they have won three out of four this season vs. the Lakers and gained a playoff tiebreaker, they will also set a new franchise record for consecutive wins.