The Los Angeles Lakers entered Friday with unfortunate news regarding starting power forward Larry Nance Jr., who had successful surgery but will be out four to six weeks. However, the train kept rolling, with Luke Walton inserting Kyle Kuzma into the starting lineup on pace to a 124-112 win over the Brooklyn Nets.
The offense truly showed up on the back end of a back-to-back, with Brook Lopez and Brandon Ingram stepping up following their tough loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. However, the NBA has proven time and time again it has a quick turnaround, as the Lakers face off Sunday night against the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies have been one of the pleasant surprises this season, opening up the season with a 6-3 record. Sunday will be quite the test for the new-look Lakers, as they face off against one of the premier guard-center combos in the NBA.
The orchestrator of the offense is Mike Conley, an All-Star caliber guard that often gets lost in the depth of the Western Conference. His quick hands, lateral quickness, and speed on the court make him one of the peskiest defenders in the NBA, while his stellar shooting and ability to score in the paint show off his impact. He missed their contest against the Magic with an Achilles injury but should be active.
Andrew Harrison is another playmaker in this offense, after making his name during his college tenure at the University of Kentucky. Up next is their surprise of the season, Tyreke Evans. This journeyman had one of the best rookie seasons ever, where he tore up opposing teams with the Sacramento Kings. Now at a later stage in his career, he contributes consistently in an offense where he is no longer one of the main options.
Mario Chalmers helps orchestrate the second unit for the Grizzlies, alongside sharpshooter Ben McLemore. Those two are capable of getting things going as the game progresses, with a key battle brewing between the bench units.
Head coach Luke Walton stated that he wanted Lonzo Ball to step up his aggressiveness, with a strong start against the Nets. Although he didn’t shoot a high field goal percentage, the offensive situations will only help him get accustomed and then help set up his teammates.
His backcourt mate Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had an encouraging all-around game, contributing while not taking too many shots. His six points, six rebounds, and five assists helped guide the way, while his defensive presence never shows up on the stat sheet. Leading scorer Jordan Clarkson was once again able to make an impact off the bench, with 19 points, four rebounds, and five assists on the night.
Tyler Ennis also got in on the action with 10 points, in sync with Lopez on a few key backdoor plays. He ability to space the floor and choose his spots are keys for the bench unit, especially in spurts.
The Grizzlies, coming off a tough 101-99 loss to the surprising Orlando Magic, rebounded Saturday with a 113-104 win over the Los Angeles Clippers. Although on the latter end of their consecutive contests at Staples Center, the Grizzlies will come out prepared. Memphis starts and finishes with All-Star Marc Gasol. The brother of former Lakers champion Pau Gasol was once a Laker, before having his rights sent in the trade involving his brother. The Spaniard has blossomed in his role with Memphis, turning into a franchise player that very few expected.
His passing skills, which seems to run in the family, is just the basis for his strong offensive arsenal. Thus far into the season, he is averaging 20.4 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. Third-year forward Jarell Martin joins Gasol in the frontcourt, giving an all-around presence and contributing at least one block per game.
James Ennis III rounds out the starting frontcourt for David Fizdale, a unit that has far exceeded expectations. Sharpshooter Chandler Parsons is a strong force off the bench, who proved countless times he is a threat on the court when he can stay healthy. Small forward and 2017 45th overall pick Dillon Brooks is another key player that has stepped up of late, contributing 12 points and four rebounds in 37 minutes of action.
The Lakers frontcourt saw a shake-up last game, due to the unfortunate injury to Nance Jr. However, little did they expect to see Kuzma look so natural in that role. Although they were on the second of a back-to-back, Kuzma came out ready to play with 39 total minutes in his first career start. His 21 points and 13 rebounds were slightly outdone by Lopez, but it didn’t take away from the phenomenal effort.
Lopez has steadily blossomed into the No. 1 option for this offense as the season has progressed, a testament to the constantly building chemistry between these units. 34 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocks later, Lopez emerged with a dominant performance against his former team.
Ingram also stepped up, with a highly efficient game that rounded out an excellent performance from Los Angeles. His aggressiveness has developed just as the team had hoped, allowing Walton to use the players to their advantage. Julius Randle also came in and provided a spark in his 16 minutes of action, including a few alley-oop slams and a dagger dunk.
Three Keys To The Game:
Contain the pick-and-roll: Although capable of executing offensive sets, their main source of offense in crucial situations will be via the pick-and-roll featuring Conley and Gasol. With both being prominent scorers, the help-side defenders need to be prepared to help limit the 1-2 punch of Memphis.
Let the good times roll: Walton has instilled this up-tempo pace that the Lakers will thrive in, but his team at times has gotten complacent. The head coach then called out his No. 2 overall pick, stating that Ball’s aggressiveness will lead to better scoring opportunities on the fast break. The Lakers need to get out and run, to test the stamina of a frontline that likes to play at a slower pace.
Strong rotations leading to confident shots: The Lakers have four players in their starting lineup that are athletic enough to create shots, meaning that different focal points will have opportunities to shine. However, the great teams understand that passing up on good shots for great opportunities is a trait that leads to many game-clinching moments.
Los Angeles Lakers (4-5) Vs. Memphis Grizzlies (6-3)
6:30 P.M. PST, November 4, 2017
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Lonzo Ball
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: Kyle Kuzma
C: Brook Lopez
Key Reserves: Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Corey Brewer, Josh Hart
Projected Grizzlies Starting Lineup:
PG: Mike Conley
SG: Andrew Harrison
SF: James Ennis III
PF: Jarell Martin
C: Marc Gasol
Key Reserves: Tyreke Evans, Chandler Parsons, Dillon Brooks, Mario Chalmers