While the Lakers have stumbled some out of the gate to their current 4-6 record, many expected this, particularly with Kobe Bryant sidelined. Not many people expected a Memphis Grizzlies team that has been together for several years now to start out the season 3-5. This is a Grizzlies team that defeated the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs last season and eventually went on to the Western Conference Finals before losing to the San Antonio Spurs. This Grizzlies team sports the exact same starting lineup as last season’s, but they are missing a key piece in former coach Lionel Hollins. Hollins was inexplicably let go after leading the Grizzlies to new heights the last three years, including last season’s Conference Finals appearance, a first for the franchise. The team also may be regretting the Rudy Gay trade, as Tayshaun Prince has regressed notably on the offensive end and no longer has the same defensive presence as he did in his Detroit Piston days.
Frontcourt: Even though the Grizzlies have struggled thus far, the team’s frontcourt is still amongst the best in the league. The key to the Grizzlies’ success starts with center Marc Gasol, brother of Pau. Gasol is the NBA’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, and remains the key cog in the Grizzlies’ defensive schemes. However, the Grizzlies’ “grit-and-grind” style of play has not shown up thus far this year, as they come in ranked 15th in the league in points per game. Offensively, Gasol is having a solid season averaging 16 points per game. Like his brother, Marc is also a great facilitator and the Grizzlies run lots of offense through him in both the high-post and the low-post.
Zach Randolph has been the heart-and-soul of the Grizzlies through their playoff successes the last three seasons. Randolph has been one of the most consistent low-post scorers in the NBA since he entered the league. A below-the-rim player, Randolph is as tough as they come on the low block and also has a soft touch on his jumper out to eighteen feet. Randolph comes in with modest numbers so far at 12.6 points and 8.1 rebounds a night, but he’s also only playing about 28 minutes per game. He remains their go-to player on offense, but at 32 years old and 13 seasons in the League it’s fair to ask whether he is starting to regress. Jordan Hill’s insertion into the starting lineup comes with perfect timing, as he is the best equipped on the Lakers to guard Randolph.
Backcourt: While many of the Grizzlies’ players have stumbled out of the gates, point guard Mike Conley has come into his own not only in the beginning part of this year, but also in last year’s playoffs. He comes in as the Grizzlies’ leading scorer at 20.1 points per game to go with 5.3 assists a night. Conley is extremely quick and is the only player on the team’s roster that is capable of creating off the dribble for himself as well as others on a consistent basis. He also does an excellent job of protecting the ball and rarely turns it over. Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar must focus on keeping Conley out of the lane and forcing him into jump-shots, as he still struggles to hit from beyond the arc (27% on the year).
Tony Allen starts at shooting guard for Memphis. Allen remains one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, but his value is minimized in this one because the Lakers without Kobe don’t possess a strong scoring presence on the wing. Allen is a poor shooter who can be doubled off of if Gasol and Randolph get good position on the block. Jerryd Bayless off the bench is a player the Lakers must keep an eye on. He has played poorly through the first eight games, but he has the capability to put up points in a hurry off the bench. The Lakers have to focus on keeping him out of the paint as well.
Keys to Lakers Victory:
Defensive Rebounding: The Grizzlies, with Gasol and Randolph, are historically an excellent offensive rebounding team. This season, however, the team has struggled on the boards and rank 27th in the league in total rebounds per game. The Lakers have been an outstanding rebounding team this season behind Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill, and rank third in the league in total rebounds per game. The Lakers must dominate the glass in this one.
Pack The Paint: The Spurs demonstrated the defensive formula to defeating the Grizzlies in last year’s playoffs when they refused to let Randolph and Gasol beat them and conceded outside shots to Memphis. Though the addition of Mike Miller, who is one of the league’s top three-point shooters, helps out some, no one else on the roster is a reliable option from beyond the arc. The team hits on only 34% of their attempts from three on 15 attempts a night. The Lakers should dare the Grizzlies to beat them from the outside.
Sustained Energy: The Lakers’ energy level has fluctuated greatly between games this season. In their wins, they have come out quickly and been able to sustain their aggressiveness throughout. The insertion of Wesley Johnson and Jordan Hill to the starting lineup was the right decision, and hopefully it pays dividends.
Memphis Grizzlies (3-5) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (4-6)
7:30 PM PST, November 15, 2013
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet
Radio: ESPN Radio 710 ESPNLA
Grizzlies Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Mike Conley
SG: Tony Allen
SF: Tayshaun Prince
PF: Zach Randolph
C: Marc Gasol
Key Reserves: SF Quincy Pondexter, SG Mike Miller, PG Jerryd Bayless