Lakers Vs. Grizzles Game 6 Preview: Another Shot At Closing Out Series
Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers squandered a chance to close out the first-round series when they lost to the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday in Game 5. Luckily for them, they get another shot Friday night when the series shifts back to Los Angeles. A win here is crucial to not only advance to the second round but earn some much-needed rest depending on the outcome of the other Western Conference game.

The Lakers have yet to lose a home game in these playoffs. Counting the Play-In Tournament and regular season, the last time the Lakers lost in front of their home crowd was March 26. The energy in the building has been unmissable in the first two games, and will likely be the same in a close-out game.

Everyone is healthy for L.A., however, a new name has been added to the injury report for the Grizzlies. Sharpshooter Luke Kennard is questionable with a left shoulder injury and considered to be a game-time decision. Kennard’s absence would be huge for the Lakers — Memphis is plus-39 in the series with Kennard on the floor, while starting forward Dillon Brooks has been minus-21. A lineup change seemed imminent if Kennard was healthy.

After a poor Game 5, all eyes will be on a bounceback game from LeBron James, who vowed to be better in Game 6. James has yet to score 30 points during this playoff run but averages 28 points per game during his career in close-out games. He seems due for a vintage performance.

Though there may be some changes rotation-wise for the Lakers. Darvin Ham discussed how Wenyen Gabriel can help the Lakers in minutes without Anthony Davis. Lonnie Walker IV also received minutes late in Game 5. His play has been scarce since the trade deadline but could increase with Malik Beasley shooting 26% from deep this playoffs.

The worst Lakers lineups in the playoffs in terms of net ratings are when LeBron is the small-ball center. The Lakers have run out two separate lineups in that scenario, each of which is being outscored by at least 16 points in no more than 21 total minutes.

Refraining from those lineups could help the Lakers control the defensive glass better. The Grizzlies have won or tied the offensive rebound battle in each game except Game 1. It could also preserve LeBron’s defensive energy.

The Lakers’ defense has been a huge part of their success this season, but it let off in most of Game 5. The Grizzlies had 94 through 3 quarters and their 3-point shooting began to fall — they hit a series-high 14 3-pointers on 35% shooting, the second-highest in the series.

A quick defensive start for the Lakers could be the final nail in the coffin and can ultimately be the difference. Whatever team has won the first quarter this series has gone on to win the game. To do that, however, the Lakers need to contain Desmond Bane and Ja Morant. Especially Bane, who has popped off for two straight 30-point games. If he’s going, it makes defending Morant a more difficult task.

A Lakers loss would be catastrophic, sending all the momentum and series back to Memphis for a Game 7. A win gives the Lakers their first series victory since winning the championship in 2020. If L.A. uses the crowd’s energy to jump out of the gates, they’ll be one step closer to another title.

Los Angeles Lakers (3-2) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (2-3)

7:30 p.m. PT, April 28, 2023
Crypto.Com Arena, Los Angeles
TV: ESPN
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA

Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:

PG: D’Angelo Russell
SG: Austin Reaves
SF: LeBron James
PF: Jarred Vanderbilt
C: Anthony Davis

Key Reserves: Dennis Schroder, Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr., Malik Beasley, Wenyen Gabriel

Projected Grizzlies Starting Lineup:

PG: Ja Morant
SG: Desmond Bane
SF: Dillon Brooks
PF: Jaren Jackson Jr.
C: Xavier Tillman

Key Reserves: Tyus Jones, Santi Aldama, John Konchar, David Roddy

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