10:00 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Lakers -7, Over/Under: 218.5
The present meets the future once again as the reigning NBA Champion, Los Angeles Lakers, look to keep pace out West as they play host to the young Memphis Grizzlies tonight from STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. One of the most surprising teams in the National Basketball Association a year ago, the Grizzlies (10-10, 9th in Western Conference) are once again exceeding expectations as they remain in the thick of things in the glut that is the middle of the Western Conference. As of this moment, there are nine teams separated within 2.5 games, and at .500 Memphis finds themselves currently tied with the Sacramento Kings for ninth in the standings, which is just about where they were last season when they ventured into the Bubble. Of course, things started rather slowly for Taylor Jenkins’ charges in 2019-2020, losing all but five of their first eighteen outings before coming of age; the Grizzlies improved to 32-33 as the league put their season on pause due to COVID-19, though struggled in the Seeding Games before meeting the Portland Trail Blazers in a fateful Play-In Game, which ended in a four-point defeat. Coming that close to the postseason seems to matured this group even further, as they seem hellbent on sticking the proverbial landing this time around. Memphis once again started slowly this season, getting out of the blocks at 2-6 before stringing together seven consecutive victories, though they would drop each of their following four. Reigning Rookie of the Year, Ja Morant (18.3 PTS, 45.9% FG, 28.2% 3FG, 2.3 REB, 7.7 AST, 1.1 STL, 18.8 PER), was the catalyst to their success last year, and apart from an earlier stretch in which he missed eight straight games with a sprained ankle has returned as the team’s chief playmaking force. Over the last nine outings, the 21-year old has posted averages of 15.6 points per game on 41.9% shooting from the field, along with 2.2 rebounds, 8.1 assists, and 1.2 steals with the Grizzlies going 5-4 over that period of time. Unfortunately, he hasn’t had much of a supporting cast around him this season, particularly of late with the rotation beset by injuries. As if being without the likes of (Forwards) Jaren Jackson Jr. and Justise Winslow for the entirety of the campaign thus far, with the former rehabbing from a surgery to repair a torn ACL and the latter making his way back from a hip injury, was bad enough many of his teammates who have been available are now not. So let’s take a moment to run down the list of ailing Grizzlies, shall we? (Sophomore Forward) Brandon Clarke (13.3 PTS, 48.8% FG, 26.5% 3FG, 5.8 REB, 1.6 AST, 1.2 STL, 0.8 BLK, 16.0 PER) has missed the last three games with a bruised calf, while (Backup Point Guard) De’Anthony Melton (10.0 PTS, 48.0% FG, 44.2% 3FG, 3.0 REB, 3.2 AST, 0.9 STL, 1.0 BLK, 15.8 PER) has been sidelined for each of the last two with a sore shoulder, with neither player expected to be available for tonight’s meeting with the Lakers. Speaking of Los Angeles, this will be the third encounter with the champs, who took each of the previous two meetings, both which took place at FedEx Forum. The first, a 108-94 affair in which the hosts wasted an early 36-25 lead in the First Quarter only to run out of gas in the Fourth, was followed by a narrow 94-92 meeting two nights later. In the two contests they struggled offensively, shooting just 41.2% from the field, including 32.2% from beyond the arc, with a scant 8.5 free-throws on 10.5 attempts, while getting outrebounded by 6.5 boards, as Morant was sidelined for both outings with that aforementioned ailing ankle.
“I feel like we’re a very dangerous team, knocking down shots. I feel like the team we have now, there’s a lot of shooting we can put on the floor. We encourage everybody from the first man to the last man when they get in the game to shoot it.”Ja Morant on the Grizzlies franchise-best 23 three-pointers in Wednesday’s 130-114 victory at home against the Hornets
When we last saw the Grizzlies, they managed to snap their four-game losing streak with a convincing 130-114 victory over the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday night from FedEx Forum. This one was an offensive explosion for the hosts, who tied a franchise-record with TWENTY-THREE three-pointers on forty-nine attempts (46.9%), outscoring the Hornets by a whopping twenty-seven points. Leading 70-68 at Halftime, the deluge came in the Third Quarter as the Grizzlies outscored the visiting side 31-15 on with 6-of-15 shooting from beyond the arc, four of which came courtesy of (versatile Guard) Kyle Anderson (13.4 PTS, 45.6% FG, 37.1% 3FG, 6.4 REB, 3.8 AST, 0.7 STL, 0.8 BLK, 16.2 PER) during a three minute tear, who went on to net a career-high six triples en route to a team-best twenty-seven points. In the end, seven different players finished in double-figures, with Dillon Brooks (15.6 PTS, 38.7% FG, 30.7% 3FG, 3.8 REB, 2.8 AST, 1.3 STL, 0.5 BLK, 10.6 PER) totaling twenty points, while Desmond Bane (10.3 PTS, 48.4% FG, 48.2% 3FG, 2.7 REB, 1.6 AST, 0.7 STL, 12.7 PER) and Grayson Allen (8.9 PTS, 38.0% FG, 38.4% 3FG, 2.9 REB, 1.9 AST, 1.0 STL, 12.9 PER) logged eighteen apiece. (Towering Center) Jonas Valanciunas (15.7 PTS, 55.6% FG, 11.1 REB, 1.9 AST, 0.8 STL, 0.9 BLK, 21.4 PER) totaled twelve points and fifteen rebounds, while Morant ended the affair with fifteen points and eleven assists. As a team, Jenkins’ troops shot 50.0% from the field, and assisted on thirty-four of their forty-seven field goals, while on the defensive end they outrebounded Charlotte 54-37, while turning nineteen turnovers into twenty-five points. Resiliency has often been the key word when describing this team, who without so many key contributors have found answers in the form of Anderson, a late-bloomer who after years of flashes appears to be putting it all together in Memphis. The 27-year old has posted career-highs in scoring (13.4), rebounding (6.4), and assists (3.8), adding another playmaking element to the rotation alongside Morant. Bane, a rookie out of TCU, has been on fire from the perimeter, knocking down forty-one three-pointers thus far, shattering the franchise-record for a player through his first twenty games. Look for Valancuinas, and another impressive rookie, Xavier Tillman (7.9 PTS, 53.1% FG, 4.9 REB, 1.7 AST, 1.0 STL, 0.7 BLK, 15.4 PER) to make an impact tonight against the Lakers, as they look to hold their own on the glass versus the reigning champs.
Meanwhile, one would have fully expected the defending champions to have stood pat but that was not the case with the Lakers (20-6, 2nd in Western Conference), who were one of the busiest teams on the market. After cementing their relationships with (All-NBA selections) LeBron James (25.5 PTS, 49.5% FG, 39.4% 3FG, 7.9 REB, 7.9 AST, 1.1 STL, 0.5 BLK, 23.9 PER) and Anthony Davis (22.3 PTS, 53.0% FG, 31.5% 3FG, 8.6 REB, 3.2 AST, 1.4 STL, 1.9 BLK, 24.3 PER) for the foreseeable future, Los Angeles parted ways with a number of veterans from their supporting cast, including (Centers) Dwight Howard and JaVale MaGee alongside (Guards) Danny Green, Rajon Rondo, and Avery Bradley, each of which having played understated roles in capturing the franchise’s NBA-record Larry O’Brien trophy. (Head Coach) Frank Vogel and (General Manager) Rob Pelinka got down to business replacing those venerable figures with younger pieces, adding the likes of (Power Forward) Montrezl Harrell (13.5 PTS, 64.9% FG, 6.3 REB, 1.1 AST, 0.7 STL, 0.7 BLK, 21.2 PER) in Free Agency, and (Point Guard) Dennis Schroder (14.6 PTS, 44.1% FG, 31.0% 3FG, 3.8 REB, 4.4 AST, 0.9 STL, 13.2 PER) in exchange for Green in a deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder. At 27-year of age apiece, Harrell and Schroder finished first and second in Sixth Man of the year voting, and bring a sorely-needed sense of youth, energy, and creativity to a rotation that at times relied far too-heavily upon the exploits of James on the offensive end of the court. Vogel and Pelinka also brought back (sharpshooting swingman) Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (8.9 PTS, 46.3% FG, 44.4% 3FG, 2.3 REB, 1.4 AST, 0.7 STL, 10.5 PER), while adding some more veteran depth in the form of (Center) Marc Gasol (3.8 PTS, 38.1% FG, 31.1% 3FG, 4.3 REB, 1.9 AST, 1.3 BLK, 10.2 PER) and (Guard) Wesley Matthews (5.6 PTS, 41.7% FG, 39.7% 3FG, 1.2 REB, 1.1 AST, 0.5 STL, 8.8 PER), bringing some more spacing and shooting to an attack that lacked it last season. While the offense has certainly opened up, shooting 48.5% from the field (3rd Overall), including a much-improved 37.1% from beyond the arc (13th Overall), up from 34.9% last season no less, the defense has remarkably remained elite in yielding 105.2 points per contest (2nd Overall) on 44.8% shooting from the floor (6th Overall), including 51.0% from within the arc (8th Overall) and 33.7% beyond it (3rd Overall), the fewest free-throws made (13.7) and attempted (17.8). Winners of six in a row, the Lakers have become accustomed to going the distance of late, with each of their last three outings needing more than the typical four quarters of play to decide a victor. In fact, Vogel’s troops have played in four overtimes over the last three games, outlasting the Detroit Pistons in a 135-129 marathon followed by back-to-back encounters with the Oklahoma City Thunder, whom they outscored by a mere eight points over the two affairs. In these extra periods they’ve bested the opposition by twelve points, while shooting 53.3% from the field, including 60.0% from downtown, with James unsurprisingly playing the role of closer, dropping a dozen points, which were punctuated with a pair of daggers from the perimeter. It should also be noted that Los Angeles was without Davis for the latter two contests, with the big fella nursing a sore Achilles. Vogel has repeatedly stated that given the short turnaround from last year’s championship run, he would give James and Davis every opportunity to rest, which seems to be the case with the seven-time All-Star. Davis himself has stated that he’s not taking any chances with the matter, and will take every precaution has he returns to health.
“We’ve got a deep team, a lot of weapons, a lot of ways we can hurt you down the stretch. They gave us all we could handle, especially in the first half of these games. But we kept grinding, stayed connected, believed in each other and grinded it out.”Frank Vogel on the Lakers performance in Wednesday’s narrow 114-113 overtime win over the Thunder without Anthony Davis
When we last saw the Lakers, they outlasted the Thunder for the second consecutive game, overcoming an early deficit to fend them off in a narrow 114-113 victory in overtime. Just as they did when these teams met on Monday night, the visitors came out of the blocks red-hot shooting 55.6% from the field, including 4-of-9 from beyond the arc (44.4%) en route to outscoring the hosts 37-23 in the First Quarter. Los Angeles struggled mightily in the period, netting a miserable 30.4% of their attempts from the floor, including just 1-of-8 from downtown (12.5%) though remained in relative striking distance thanks to their residence at the charity stripe, knocking down 8-of-11 free-throws (72.7%). Vogel’s troops would cut the deficit to ten entering Halftime, but would go on to OWN the Second Half, shooting 50.0% to the Thunder’s 38.6% from the field, outscoring them by twelve points in that last regard. With Davis out of action, James once again rose to the occasion with fifteen of his twenty-five points coming after intermission, shooting 6-of-11 (54.5%) in the Third and Fourth, draining 3-of-6 from long-range (50.0%), along with three rebounds and assists apiece, highlighted the game-tying three-pointer with 19.6 seconds left to play to send the affair into the extra period. Though the four-time MVP wouldn’t score in overtime, he absolutely made his presence felt breaking up Oklahoma City’s final possession to secure the victory. On the whole, the Lakers shot 47.2% overall, including 10-of-35 from the perimeter (28.6%), and 20-of-24 from the free-throw line (83.3%), with James totaling twenty-five points, six rebounds, and seven assists. Harrell added twenty points on an efficient 8-of-10 shooting (80.0%) with four rebounds and three assists, while Schroder chipped in with nineteen points, including a team-high 8-of-8 from the stripe (100.0%), along with seven rebounds and five assists. (Young Swingman) Kyle Kuzma (10.3 PTS, 43.4% FG, 37.0% 3FG, 5.9 REB, 1.1 AST, 0.7 BLK, 12.3 PER) helped fill the void left by Davis, finishing with fifteen points on 7-of-14 shooting (50.0%) and nine rebounds, while the aforementioned Matthews came up big with ten points off the bench, including the tiebreaking three-pointer in overtime. The champs became just the seventh team in NBA history to compete in three consecutive overtime games, with the last team to do being the Timberwolves back in 2007, and did it for the first time in franchise history since 1991. Given his comments, Davis is all but guaranteed to miss tonight’s affair, which would be his third in a row, though (key reserve) Alex Caruso (5.5 PTS, 45.9% FG, 47.6% 3FG, 2.4 REB, 2.1 AST, 1.0 STL, 11.0 PER) is likely to return after missing the last two outings with a bruised hand after taking part in his team’s pregame workouts on Wednesday night. Before this latest stretch of overtime madness, James had been logging a career-low 33.6 minutes per game but has since recorded three straight games of 40+ minutes.