Last night the Lakers failed to get a win in Atlanta against the Hawks when they lost 114-100. This team continues to struggle as they adjust to playing with Kobe Bryant, and having no active point guards on the roster isn’t helping either.
Kobe’s performances through five games have fluctuated. On one night, he’s looked extremely sub-par, and on others he’s sort of resembled the Kobe Bryant that Lakers fans want to see.
Tonight, Kobe will be tested again, as the Lakers will face one of the better defensive teams in the NBA in the Memphis Grizzlies. Back in November, the Lakers lost at Staples Center to the Grizzlies 89-86, largely inspired by a great night from Zach Randolph, as he scored 28 points and grabbed 11 rebounds en route to a victory.
The Grizzlies have one of the best big man duos in the game in Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. However, Marc Gasol is not active as he continues to recover from a sprained MCL in his knee. I know it would be easy to think that no Marc means that the Lakers have a much lighter load in dealing with the Memphis frontcourt, but that’s not the case. The Grizzlies have played Jon Leur a bulk of the minutes in Marc’s place, and he played very well for a young big man without a lot of experience. Over his last five games, Leur has averaged: 16.4 points and 8.2 rebounds, so he’ll have to be accounted for by the Lakers coaching staff.
Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill are going to have to be very aggressive on the glass and will have to use their size to dominate the paint with Marc Gasol not playing tonight. If they do that, the Lakers might have a chance to be successful.
For the Grizzlies backcourt, point guard Mike Conley has really come into his own through the early part of this season. He comes in as the Grizzlies’ leading scorer at 18.2 points per game to go with 6.3 assists a night. Conley is very quick and is the only player on the team’s roster that is capable of creating off the dribble for himself as well as others on a consistent basis. He also does an excellent job of protecting the ball and rarely turns it over. Not having a point guard on a night like this is going to make beating the Grizzlies that much harder, because Conley is so great at attacking the basket. Jodie Meeks and Wes Johnson must focus on keeping Conley out of the lane and forcing him into jump-shots. If they don’t, he’ll break the Lakers defense apart with his penetration.
Tony Allen starts at shooting guard for Memphis. Allen remains one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, and he will be looking to get a shot at guarding Kobe Bryant. Conley and Allen compose arguably the best defensive backcourt. Both are quick, athletic, and have good instincts. Allen doesn’t necessarily compliment Conley on the offensive end, but his defense is a must-have for the style of basketball that this team plays.
Keys To Lakers’ Victory
Protect the Ball: The Lakers have been turning the ball over too much as of late, and maybe that’s a result of playing Kobe at point guard. Still, that’s not a good enough excuse for how poor they’ve handled the ball over the last five games. The Grizzlies will look to score on all fast-break opportunities despite the fact that there are few of them available considering the pace they prefer to play.
Controlling The Pace: The Lakers and Grizzlies are the exact opposite when it comes to pace. The Grizzlies like to pound the ball inside and slow the game down, while the Lakers like to get up-and-down the court and get as many offensive possessions as they can. It’s possible that the team that dictates the pace will win this game, so the Lakers must do a great job of imposing their style of play early and throughout.
Sustained Effort: It seems as if the return of Kobe took the possession-to-possesion fight out of this team. Earlier in the season when this team was looked at as nightly underdogs, they relished the idea of having to play hard all 48 minutes. Kobe’s return set a certain complacence in the locker room, as it could be possible that they assumed he’d come back and take this team to another level all by his lonesome. Their effort has been nonexistent over the last five games, and they need to get that back, as it was a key aspect of their identity when they were winning games before Kobe returned.
Los Angeles Lakers (11-12) vs. Atlanta Hawks (12-12)
5 p.m. PST, December 17, 2013
FedExForum, Memphis, Tennessee
TV: TWC SportsNet
Radio: ESPN Radio 710 ESPNLA
Hawks Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Mike Conley
SG: Tony Allen
SF: Tayshaun Prince
PF: Zach Randolph
C: Kosta Koufos
Key Reserves: SG Jerryd Bayless, PF Jon Leur SF Mike Miller
Lakers Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Kobe Bryant
SG: Jodie Meeks
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Jordan Hill
C: Pau Gasol
ICYMI: Kobe Bryant Was Far From Pleased When He Realized He’d Be Taking Over At Point In Steve Blake’s Absence