The Los Angeles Lakers got on the team plane to head East as winners in three of their last four games. Since their departure from Los Angeles, the team has dropped the first two of a three-game road trip. After losing by a combined seven points against the Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat, the Lakers now face their toughest test as they conclude the trip against the Memphis Grizzlies, who are coming off a thrilling last-second win over the Houston Rockets.
Frontcourt: Providing the heroics in Houston was the man in the middle, Marc Gasol, who buried a difficult shot with 0.1 seconds left to seal the victory. Gasol has been fantastic this season, leading the charge once again for Memphis. Averaging 18.2 points, eight rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.7 blocks per game, the 30-year-old earned his second career All-Star appearance last month. Gasol’s game has very little weakness. He’s a terrific defender, seemingly always in the correct position on the floor. Offensively, he can score in the post or step out and connect from midrange, along with rare passing ability for a big man. Overall, he’s arguably the best center in the league and has a remarkable basketball IQ.
Gasol’s comrade down low is thirteen-year veteran Zach Randolph. Together, they punish opponents on a nightly basis with their brute force and physical style of play. Randolph will turn 34 later this year, but that hasn’t stopped him from producing. His double-double average of 16.5 points and 11.6 boards is a major contributing factor to his team’s success thus far, as they currently sit second in the Western Conference standings. Expect plenty of touches for Randolph in the low or mid-post, where he can face-up his defender and use his big body to attack inside.
Jeff Green was acquired through a trade earlier in the season from the Boston Celtics. Memphis viewed Green as the missing piece needed to truly make a run at an NBA championship, and their success since he came along gives them additional belief in that notion. Green brings a quality scoring punch for the defensive-minded Grizzlies, and as a capable perimeter shooter, he provides better floor spacing. He’s a solid athlete and a versatile scorer who stays within the flow of the team’s offense, making him an excellent piece for this dangerous Memphis squad.
Backcourt: Conducting the offense for Memphis is point guard Mike Conley, one of the more underrated players in the NBA. His numbers (16.4 points, 5.1 assists) won’t wow you, though they are solid, but his intangibles give his game the utmost value to the Grizzlies. Unlike so many guards in the game today, Conley doesn’t beat teams with superb athleticism. He’s an incredibly smart player who shines in big moments because he never loses his composure. He seemingly always makes the right play on offense, while fitting his team’s gritty, hard-nosed mold on defense.
Next to Conley in the backcourt is Courtney Lee, the seventh-year man out of Western Kentucky. Lee is a solid athlete and a prototypical “three-and-D” player at the off-guard position. He’s an exceptional on-ball defender out on the perimeter, typically garnering the toughest assignment of the starting unit. He’s also been accurate from deep this year, connecting on 43.9 percent of his three-point attempts. Similar to Green, Lee is an ideal complimentary piece to the structure of Memphis’ roster.
Keys to Victory:
Run, Run, Run: The Grizzlies play at the fifth slowest pace in the league, helping them get their half court defense set, which allows them to stymie teams on that end. The Lakers are clearly outmatched in talent, so they’ll need to push the tempo and get out in transition in order to create some higher quality looks on offense before Memphis gets all five men back. Having to run half court sets against this rigorous defense would make things overwhelming for Los Angeles.
Where’s Tarik Black?: With just 22 games remaining and no chance of making the playoffs, the focus should be on developing the young players that could be a part of the team’s future plans. Black has been buried on the bench as of late by Byron Scott, in favor of Carlos Boozer, who is hard to imagine being a Laker beyond this season. The rookie is a solid defender that is tough on the glass and physical in the paint, plus he knows his limitations offensively and stays within his role. He played well in Houston when Dwight Howard went down with an injury, and has done the same in Los Angeles. It’s time for him to return to the rotation.
Pack the Paint: Memphis’ one-two punch down low of Gasol and Randolph is very formidable, so the Lakers need to limit their effectiveness if they want to earn a win in this road trip’s finale. Los Angeles needs to swarm the paint on defense and force the Grizzlies to beat them from the outside, where they only take 15.1 threes a game — the second fewest in the league. Memphis has some adequate shooters from the perimeter, but if they are going to beat you, make them use a method that’s a bit out of their comfort zone.
Heading into tonight’s game, Lakers are 11.5-point underdogs against Grizzlies via Sportsbook.ag.
Los Angeles Lakers (16-44) at Memphis Grizzlies (43-17)
5:00 PM PST, March 6, 2015
FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN
TV: TWC SportsNet
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Grizzlies Projected Starting Lienup
PG: Mike Conley
SG: Courtney Lee
SF: Jeff Green
PF: Zach Randolph
C: Marc Gasol
Key Reserves: PG: Beno Udrih, SG: Tony Allen, C: Kosta Koufos
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Jordan Clarkson
SG: Wayne Ellington
SF: Ryan Kelly
PF: Carlos Boozer
C: Robert Sacre