With just three games remaining in what is already the worst season in Lakers history, this awful chapter for the purple and gold is mercifully coming to a close. The Lakers started off the season admirably, but have battled injuries left and right and are crawling towards the finish line with nearly as many injured players as active ones. Sitting at just 1-8 in their past nine games, team morale can really use a boost and this patchwork Lakers squad and embattled head coach Mike D’Antoni will be looking for a win despite what it means for the franchise’s lottery chances.
As for the Grizzlies, a win this past Friday over the visiting 76ers saw them claim the number 8 seed in the West over the Suns … for now. As usual, the West remains undecided with just a few games left to play. You can bet that the Grizzlies will come into Staples Center tonight hungry for an important win that would help them stave off the trailing Suns and hold onto the final playoff spot.
Frontcourt: The Grizzlies buck the trend of the modern “stretch four” frontcourt in favor of a throwback one that features two bruisers in Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Unlike his brother Pau, who has had his share of struggles on the defensive end, Marc Gasol is a legitimate two-way player. There is little he can’t do and you can expect him to stuff the box score while operating from both the low post and at the elbow offensively. More importantly though, he is the Grizzlies’ most valuable defensive player. Gasol is simply a behemoth at 7’1” and 265 pounds, but unlike other hulking big men, he somehow possesses the agility of a much smaller man. This allows him to provide excellent weak side help without compromising his ability to defend his own man straight up.
Zach Randolph is the other half of the two-headed monster the Grizzlies employ in their frontcourt. While Randolph isn’t great defensively, he is inexplicably difficult to stop offensively. Despite lacking the otherworldly athleticism or wingspans of many of today’s big guys, Randolph is able to score with the best of them. He can shoot the ball from mid range, but is especially impressive in the paint where he gets a startling number of his points by bullying players who are far more athletic (I’m looking at you Blake Griffin!). He is also a relentless rebounder and the Lakers’ rebounding woes will be magnified against this Grizzlies duo.
James Johnson will get the start at small forward if Tayshaun Prince remains sidelined for another game. Quite the opposite of Randolph, Johnson is very gifted physically. Although he isn’t a big threat to score the ball, he is a key piece in the Grizzlies’ defense. He is capable of disrupting the flow of the Lakers’ offense as he chips in about one steal and one block in just 18.6 minutes a game. He is also capable of defending both perimeter and post players.
Backcourt: Mike Conley is the Grizzlies’ floor general, but he has improved significantly as a scorer, increasing his previous high by nearly three points a game to lead his team at 17.3 points per game. Conley has shown that he can be a good playmaker, but his Grizzlies don’t need him to be as they are at their best when they pound the ball into the post and let their big men go to work. For this reason, Conley’s three point range may be the most important skill he brings to the table as it helps space the floor properly so that Gasol and Randolph can operate one on one. He also takes great care of the basketball as evidenced by his average of just 2.1 turnovers a game, a number that is startlingly low for a starting point guard. Defensively, he is very effective and year in and year out, you can find him among the league leaders in steals.
Courtney Lee is the other starter in the backcourt largely due to his long-range shooting ability. Like Conley, Lee spaces the floor for a first unit that is looking to feed both Gasol and Randolph down low. Lee won’t operate as much more than a spot up shooter in the Grizzlies’ offense.Tony Allen figures to get some minutes in the backcourt as well. However, his game is much further along defensively than offensively and he may not see extended minutes against a Lakers squad that lacks an every-possession perimeter threat.
Keys to Lakers’ Victory:
Force Memphis to Play from the Outside In: The Grizzlies would love nothing more than to feed their two All Star big men on every possession and it shows. They are dead last in three point field goal attempts at just 13.9 a game. To put that in perspective, the league-leading Rockets attempt 26.6 three’s a game, which is nearly twice as many. Both the Lakers guards and big men should try to take away post entry passes and even dare the Grizzlies’ perimeter players to shoot. If the Lakers can limit Gasol and Randolph’s opportunities in the low post, their chances in the game look much better.
Rebounding Differential: The Lakers remain last in rebounding differential and it has has ballooned to -8.0 rebounds a game. The Grizzlies are sixth in the league in rebounding differential and will absolutely feast on a lineup without Pau Gasol and Chris Kaman. Aside from Jordan Hill, the Lakers will lean heavily on Robert Sacre and Ryan Kelly, both of whom are far outmatched. Despite the daunting matchup, these three Lakers need to focus on boxing out and keeping the differential as small as possible. At the very least, they need to make Gasol and Randolph work for every rebound so that they can capitalize when fatigue sets in.
Memphis Grizzlies (47-32) at Los Angeles Lakers (25-54)
6:30 PM PST, April 13, 2014
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet, NBA TV
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Grizzlies Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Mike Conley, Jr.
SG: Courtney Lee
SF: James Johnson
PF: Zach Randolph
C: Marc Gasol
Key Reserves: SG: Tony Allen, SF: Mike Miller
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Kendall Marshall
SG: Jodie Meeks
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Ryan Kelly
C: Jordan Hill
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