The Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies are set to kick off their first round series in what may be the most highly anticipated of all of the first round matchups in the NBA playoffs. The Lakers won the regular season series 2-1, and while all of the games were entertaining, there was never a meeting where both teams were at full strength.
The first contest was the memorable ‘Shannon Sharpe Game’ where the NFL Hall of Famer got into it with Grizzlies on the sideline. The Lakers won thanks to a Dennis Schroder steal and layup late, but that was before the trade deadline completely re-shaped the roster. Ja Morant scored 29 points in the third quarter alone in the second meeting, but both LeBron James and D’Angelo Russell sat out that Grizzlies win. Anthony Davis dominated the third meeting, but Morant, LeBron and Russell were all out.
For the Lakers, establishing Davis will be the path to success not only in this game but the series as a whole. The big man averaged 29.0 points, 20.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks in his two games against Memphis this season and with the Grizzlies down both Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke, the path is there for Davis to dominate inside and put a lot of pressure on Defensive Player of the Year candidate Jaren Jackson Jr. to stay out of foul trouble.
James vs. Dillon Brooks will be a closely watched matchup, especially after Brooks’ words ahead of the Lakers Play-In Tournament victory, but maybe more important for the Lakers offensive success will be the play of Russell. The point guard was awful in the Play-In but his ability to stretch the floor and operate in the pick-and-roll with Davis will be much needed. He could also have some revenge on his mind after a less-than-stellar showing against the Grizzlies in last year’s playoffs as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Defensively, the biggest question for the Lakers is how they will defend Morant. He lives in the paint and is the catalyst for everything the Grizzlies do. How the Lakers choose to match up with the All-Star will be worth watching. Jarred Vanderbilt, Austin Reaves and Dennis Schroder will likely spend the most time on him, but it will take a whole team effort to contain Morant.
The Lakers must also continue to keep Desmond Bane in check. He is one of the best shooters in the league but struggled this season against the Lakers and if he gets hot, it could completely swing the game.
This series is a meeting of teams who do a lot of the same things. Both teams are top five in the NBA in fastbreak points and top six in points in the paint while neither excels beyond the arc. The key could be turnovers, an area where the Lakers have struggled at times. If they can take care of the ball, they have a shot at sending a message in the first game of this series, but the Grizzlies won’t make it easy.
Los Angeles Lakers (0-0) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (0-0)
12 p.m. PT, April 16, 2023
FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN
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, Luke Kennard, David Roddy
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