As the Los Angeles Lakers enter their final 11 games of the season, they do so seemingly fighting new injuries by the day. Head coach Luke Walton has seen the depth, which was an asset earlier this season, dwindle down to a shortened bench.
With a plethora of scorers missing from their lineup, the Lakers gear up for a showdown against the Memphis Grizzlies. Already without Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart, the Lakers also won’t have Isaiah Thomas for the two remaining games while deals with a sore hip. Although not 100 percent, Thomas had continued to play through discomfort as gears up for a free agency frenzy.
His absence now leaves the Lakers with one less reliable scorer on the floor. The injury bug has put a damper on the success of the second half, with the Lakers now on a four-game losing streak.
The lack of depth has resulted in a lot of attention and stress being placed on the starting lineup and the need to log extra minutes.
Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma, on the cusp of concluding their rookie seasons, are learning just how difficult the rigors of an 82-game season can turn out to be. Ball is coming off of a forgettable 2-for-15 shooting performance, which he and Walton both consider a part of the process.
At the same time, Kuzma took on more of a scoring responsibility, with 22 points in almost 43 minutes of action. All five Lakers starters logged at least 30 minutes in the previous game. With a lack of shooting on the roster, the Lakers have had to rely upon their production from inside.
The presence in the paint starts off with Julius Randle, as he puts an end to a remarkable season. Randle now has reached the 20-point mark in six straight games, while tacking on 10 or more rebounds in five of those contests.
The production in the paint has been a tough matchup for any team, especially when pitted alongside Brook Lopez. With his ability to knock down the 3-point shot, Lopez can space the floor and allow Randle some isolation situations early on to get him going.
The Grizzlies are one of the teams awaiting the end of the season, as entering Saturday’s game they are among the teams with the worst record in the NBA.
Marc Gasol, who sat out their previous contest resting an illness, is expected to suit up. The former All-Star provides a boost of production to a struggling Grizzlies team, with an offensive arsenal and consistent defensive presence on the court. At the same time, fellow franchise player Mike Conley will not return this season while nursing the surgery he had on his heel.
With their two cornerstone players out for much of the season, it is no surprise why the Grizzlies have struggled the way they have. Memphis will also have to move on without the production of Tyreke Evans, who has been ruled out due to personal matters.
Memphis is coming off of their worst loss of the season, a 140-79 beatdown courtesy of the Charlotte Hornets. Rookie Dillon Brooks has been a surprise in a season filled with disappointment, earning his way into the starting lineup.
The Grizzlies ended their 19-game losing streak by defeating Denver Nuggets, but have since lost three in a row. However, the Grizzlies have won two of three matchups the Lakers this season.
Three Keys To Victory:
Matchup In The Paint: The Grizzlies feature a physical frontline, especially when Gasol suits up. With a lack of scoring and thin depth, the Lakers have made a point of scoring from the inside early on, to create space on the floor as the game progresses. Expect Randle and Lopez to get a lot of looks early on, which could result in a ton of free throws.
Ball Control: His 2-for-15 shooting performance is now a thing of the past, with Ball providing much more than scoring to his team. When in the open court, Ball has continually made the right decision and now is the lone facilitator in the backcourt with Thomas out. Expect Ball to create havoc off the pick-and-roll, while attempting to bounce back in the scoring department.
Finish Defensive Possessions: With Evans ruled out, the Grizzlies should struggle immensely to get points up if the Lakers are dialed in on defense. Gambling and transition defense will be the key tests for the Lakers, to limit as many easy buckets as possible. If the Lakers can keep the transition points to a minimum, the Grizzlies will have trouble executing in the half court.
Los Angeles Lakers (31-40) Vs Memphis Grizzlies (19-53):
5:00 P.M. PST, March 24, 2018
FedExForum, Memphis, Tennesee
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Lonzo Ball
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Kyle Kuzma
PF: Julius Randle
C: Brook Lopez
Key Reserves: Travis Wear, Ivica Zubac
Projected Grizzlies Starting Lineup:
PG: Andrew Harrison
SG: Dillon Brooks
SF: Jarell Martin
PF: JaMychal Green
C: Marc Gasol
Key Reserves: Briante Weber, Mario Chalmers, Ben McLemore