Going into their home stand, the Lakers were 19-22. They didn’t have the easiest home stand but given how they played well against top teams, I thought they’d be able to pull off three out of five from their stay in Los Angeles. Maybe even four out of five.
Well, they’re currently one for four. And their losses have been all close. But those losses basically meant that they’re definitely in the right place. 20-25 and 13th in the West. You gotta come through in the clutch and execute well down the stretch.
They did none of that in those losses. They couldn’t hold a three-point lead late against the Mavericks in a double overtime marathon. They couldn’t get a shot off in the final possession against the Sixers. And then on Wednesday, they decided to pretty much stand around on offense in the last five minutes against the Kings. And if LeBron James didn’t go for a season-high 48 points, they would’ve lost against the hapless Rockets, too. It’s easy to point to the referees for the reasons they lost but they can’t expect the officials to bail them out; you know how unpredictable they can be.
So in the final game of their home stand, guess who’s coming in? It’s the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies are ready for prime time. Winners of their last 11 games, Memphis is running away (along with Denver) from the rest of the Western Conference. They’re 31-13 and second place in the West. They have the best defense in the league. They’re 6th in offensive rating. They get all the rebounds (they have the most per game and second in rebound percentage). They get all the shots off (most in field goals made and attempts). And they’re second in blocked shots.
And if you’re thinking about the Lakers running and dominating the paint, well, that also seems to be the Grizzlies’ thing. They lead the league in points in the paint and are second in fast break points. The Grizzlies, like the Lakers, also like to pick up the pace.
In the middle of all of this is Ja Morant. The dude is box office. 27.4 points (10th in the league), 5.6 rebounds, and 7.9 assists (6th) per game. And he has the most breathtaking dunks in the game today. You worry about his health all the time due to how risky he plays. But you cannot find a more electrifying player in the league today. He’s must-see television.
The team is young and deep. Their oldest active player is Steven Adams (age 29) and you know what Adams provides for a team. He’s considered the strongest player in the league today. Desmond Bane has turned into a pure second scoring option; he’s become the Grizzlies’ main floor-spacer (21.8 points per while shooting .433 from three in 7.5 attempts). Jaren Jackson, Jr. is in the running for Defensive Player of the Year (he averages 3.3 blocks per game and would lead the league if he played enough games). Dillon Brooks gets under people’s skin and is never short on confidence. Tyus Jones has become the perfect back-up point for Memphis. Brandon Clarke, Santi Aldama, and John Konchar provide a lot of punch off the bench.
Simply put, this will be quite the challenge for the Lakers, especially since the Grizz also thrive off the Lakers’ strengths. But the Lakers have been able to stay with all the top teams in the league. It’s just as of late, they seem to melt down in the final minutes. It’s not as frustrating if they’re an overall young team trying to make their way up the ranks (which should be the Grizzlies today but they seem way ahead of schedule) but they have LeBron James and Russell Westbrook leading the team so it gets all the fans riled up and probably trashing things at their home. So as of now, I’m just looking at how they’ll handle the last few minutes of the game should the game be close.
As of this writing, the usuals (Anthony Davis, Lonnie Walker IV, Austin Reaves) will be out. And LeBron James will probably be questionable (or probable) for the rest of the games this season. They can keep the game close (or maybe outright win it?) if LeBron plays. If he doesn’t, I don’t expect the Lakers to repeat what they did against Miami. Especially since Thomas Bryant and Dennis Schröder have really fallen off in the last few games. I do hope they get it going sooner than later.
So we’ll see how the Lakers do against an elite team in the West. At the very least, we’re going to get a show out of this. So that’s a positive, right?