The Lakers are back in the playoffs after a one-year absence.
They are the 7th seed in the Western Conference so they have to go against the second seed. The second seed happens to be… the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Lakers did defeat them in their season series, 2-1. That certainly gives the Lakers fans hope.
What gives them even more hope is that it’s unfortunate that the Grizzlies have been hit with some injuries. The Lakers and their fan base won’t feel sorry for them; after all, the Lakers had their own share of hits throughout the season. But the timing was very unlucky for Memphis. They won’t have Brandon Clarke for the rest of the season due to a torn ACL. Steven Adams has had a knee injury for weeks and he’s probably not going to make it back for the playoffs. More on how this affects the Grizzlies in a bit.
The three games went like this:
The first game took place in January 20 and the Grizzlies dominated for most of the game. But Dennis Schröder literally stole the game from them.
Outside of a Shannon Sharpe incident, there were a lot of notables in this game in favor of Memphis. They were +16 in rebounds (+14 in offensive boards). Grizz were +20 in paint points. And they killed the Lakers in second chance points, 39-22. But the Lakers played the foul game perfectly late in the contest and the Lakers were able to scurry away with the W like a thief in the night.
The second match-up took place on February 28. Two things stood out:
Ja Morant scored 28 of his 39 points in the third quarter.
The Lakers turned the ball over 26 times.
L.A. did outrebound the Grizz by 9 while Memphis killed in the paint by a mile (+38!). LeBron did not play in this game, by the way, but neither did Steven Adams.
The final game happened during Pau Gasol Retirement Night on March 7th. Adams, Brandon Clarke, and Ja Morant all didn’t play. Anthony Davis finished the game with 30 points and 22 rebounds. The Lakers overall had a 12-board advantage.
For the season, the Grizzlies looked great getting the boards (second in rebounding and 8th in rebound percentage). But ever since Steven Adams went down (he last played in January 22nd), they were 15th in rebounding and 25th in board percentage. And with Brandon Clarke not there, it’s going to be tough for them to outrebound the Lakers (particularly Davis).
The Grizz do still have Jaren Jackson, Jr. (a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year) and Xavier Tillman but it’s just going to be so tough for the Grizzlies now lacking the size.
But the Lakers do still have to stop Ja Morant. They did a great job in the first game but he exploded in the second contest with that aforementioned third quarter. The Lakers also have to contend with Desmond Bane, a great scorer in his own right, and the annoying Dillon Brooks, who will take every turn to get under the Lakers’ skin. As I’ve said before, he’s become the embodiment of these young bears.
They also have the best back-up point guard in the league with the steady Tyus Jones. And Luke Kennard is a dangerous sniper from afar. Even without Adams and Clarke, the team is stupidly deep (even if they’re on the younger side). But of note, the Grizz shot badly from three against the Lakers in their season series (24 for 97, .247).
The Lakers will have to go to Davis early and often. I expect the Grizz to send the farm towards him. But of course, he has LeBron James to take the pressure off of him. We know what that guy can do, right?
Of course, I wonder about the rest of the team. Outside of that energy and focus this team seems to lack a lot of the time, that is. D’Angelo Russell seems too quiet at times (he was 1 for 9 in the play-in). Is this moment too big for Austin Reaves? Will defenses continue to leave Jarred Vanderbilt and dare him to beat them? And we do hope the bench can be consistently productive.
Will the Lakers be once again the most dangerous #7 seed (they were called that in 2021 and the air was taken out of the team once Davis got hurt)? Will Memphis survive the Lakers without their big men? Will Shannon Sharpe and Tee Morant have a Round 2?
It’s good to see the Lakers back in the playoffs. And what an obstacle they have in the first round on their quest for Banner #18.