The Los Angeles Lakers have stolen home-court advantage in their first-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies by winning Game 1 128-112 thanks to an incredible 15-0 run to close the game out. The biggest question heading into Game 1 is undoubtedly the status of Grizzlies superstar Ja Morant, who will be a game-time decision.
The Lakers have to prepare for this game with or without Morant because of his uncertain status. Backup Grizzlies point guard Tyus Jones provides different challenges for the Lakers that are not presented when Morant is available.
Lakers Adjustments Heading Into Game 2
If orant does wind up missing Game 2, I’d personally change the starting lineup. Instead of having Jarred Vanderbilt, who was Morant’s primary defender in Game 1, as a starter, I would go with Rui Hachimura, who was spectacular in Game 1.
Matchup-wise, Hachimura would be tasked with guarding Jaren Jackson Jr, allowing LeBron James to roam more and guard Dillon Brooks.
The most significant defensive adjustment the Lakers need to make heading into Game 2 is how they defend Jackson post-ups. On post-ups this season, Jackson has a 1.101 PPP per Synergy. So the Lakers continuously allowing Jackson to go one-on-one from the post is unacceptable. When Jackson plays out on the perimeter, the Lakers must be ready to help and have weakside rim protection.
This clip shows a smaller Lakers lineup on the floor with Hachimura and James operating as the two “bigs”. On the Jackson drive, Dennis Schroder stunts into the lane and LeBron comes over and cleans up the rim with a tremendous weak side block. Hard to expect this consistently from James, but this can similarly work with having Anthony Davis at the rim cleaning up any potential paint touches.
One of the most significant adjustments the Lakers made following halftime in Game 1 was that they were top-locking the Grizzlies shooters such as Desmond Bane or Luke Kennard on off-ball screens. The Grizzlies try to run this triple screen for Bane, but D’Angelo Russell does a good job blowing this action up by top-locking Bane. However, when Bane rejects the screen, Russell calls for Vanderbilt to switch onto Bane, but the Lakers botch the switch and the Grizzlies guard ends up with a good look from three. The process is good from a gameplan/in-game adjustments standpoint, but you would like to see the Lakers do a better job executing here.
The Grizzlies did a great job scouting for a few of the Lakers’ favorite sets. This includes the Lakers’ “Double Drag Oklahoma” set, which counters the opposing team’s drop coverage. In this play, the Lakers attempt to run their “Horns Stagger Flip” set. The Grizzlies do a great job recognizing that the weakside stagger action is simply a decoy. This leads to an off-target pass to Schroder, and Malik Beasley ultimately has to shoot a contested 3-pointer. One adjustment for this play could be for Schroder and Hachimura to set a double hammer screen for Beasley. Since the Lakers have the three vs. two advantage on that side of the floor, they would be able to get a wide-open look for Beasley.
What Adjustments Do The Grizzlies Make?
If Morant does not play in game two, you must anticipate the Grizzlies using Bane in their ball-screen game. The Grizzlies’ ball-screen offense uses Bane as the ball-handler the third most on their roster at 12.8%. According to Synergy, when Bane is the one initiating the ball screen, the Grizzlies score 1.065 points per possession. That ranks even higher than Jones or Morant. Bane is also an improved passer this season, so if you try to blitz or hedge, he’s more than comfortable making the pass.
The most significant adjustment I anticipate the Grizzlies to make is to avoid putting Davis in screen-and-roll actions. Davis would consistently blow up the Grizzlies by protecting the rim or getting active in the passing lanes.
The Grizzlies would look to go to their “Double Drag Shallow” set late in the first half. We broke this play down in the scouting report for Morant and how they like to run this play to get him going. Davis is in drop coverage on this play at the start. As Jackson sets the ball screen, Jones shallow cuts out toward the wing. Morant explodes off the ball screen but jumps right into the wall that is Davis. The Grizzlies make it easier on the Lakers here because of Jackson popping instead of rolling to the basket.
Expect the Grizzlies to try to put James or Hachimura in more ball-screen actions. To potentially counter this adjustment, the Lakers could switch 1-4 on the perimeter and still utilize Davis as a roamer. Either way, I’d expect the Grizzlies to go away from Davis more in Game 2.
The Lakers looked as if they were the better team for the vast majority of Game 1. Have to give the coaching staff credit for the game plan and making the necessary adjustments in Game 1. It’s a long series, but the Lakers are off to a good start and they have an excellent opportunity to head back home with a commanding 2-0 series lead.