Frontcourt: A former Laker draft pick, Marc Gasol has developed into one of the best big men in the league. The trade that sent him to the Grizzlies for his brother Pau has been heavily scrutinized, but I think it’s safe to say that time has shown that it isn’t the lopsided deal everyone initially pegged it as. I mean, Gasol is having himself a career season, shattering his best scoring average by 5.5 points. To go with his 20.1 points per game, he also averages 8.3 boards, 3.8 dimes, and 1.3 blocks. Both offensively and defensively, there is very little he cannot do and the struggling Jordan Hill will have to regain some of his old form if he wants to hold his own against Gasol.
Tony Allen will get the start at small forward, but will likely spend time guarding Kobe Bryant. While Allen’s offensive game is a work in progress, he is a pest on the defensive end and has gained a reputation as one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. He should make things difficult for Kobe tonight and Kobe will need to defer to his teammates early as opposed to forcing the issue against Allen. Jon Leuer will slot in at power forward for the injured Zach Randolph. He has put up respectable per minute numbers throughout his career, but is little more than a placeholder in the starting lineup with Tayshaun Prince absorbing most of the backup frontcourt minutes.
At 34 years of age, Prince has perfected his role as a consummate team player and glue guy. He still has the ability to knock down open shots, but his waning athleticism has left him without the playmaking and creativity he possessed when he was younger. Nonetheless, the leadership qualities and championship experience he brings to the table are invaluable to a Grizzlies squad trying to win it all.
Backcourt: In a league with so many great point guards, Mike Conley seems to fly under the radar, but he is without a doubt, a top point guard in the league. He is second on the team in scoring at 18.3 points a game and first in assists at 6.0. He has extended his range out to the NBA three point line, shooting 43.3 percent from beyond the arc, which is good for tenth in the league among qualifying players (on pace to make at least 82 three point field goals). His offensive development has made him into a nightmare on the floor as he is a true two-way player. With an appearance on the All-Defensive Second Team in 2013, Conley has earned his stripes, proving his ability to defend the assembly line of top-flight guards in the West.
Courtney Lee gets the start next to Conley and rounds out the Grizzlies’ sharpshooting backcourt. While the Splash Brothers in Golden State get all the hype, Conley and Lee actually have them beat in terms of sheer percentages, though obviously not on volume. Lee actually joins his backcourt mate as a top ten three point shooter at number four, averaging a ridiculous 49.4% on the year, but that number should trend down through the rest of the season. He has struggled mightily in his last five games, averaging just 7.8 points on 35.0 percent shooting and the Lakers will have to hope his slump continues into tonight’s contest.
Keys to Victory:
Limit Threes From the Starting Backcourt: Although Memphis has some serious snipers in Conley and Lee, they are pretty pedestrian across the rest of their roster. In fact, they are rather average as a team, shooting the three ball at a 35.8 percent clip, good for thirteenth in the league. The Lakers will need to hold them to even lower of a mark to keep the game competitive and it starts with covering their best shooters in Conley and Lee. I am positive Byron Scott and the coaching staff can live with the likes of Tony Allen and Quincy Pondexter taking the bulk of the outside shots.
Attack the Basket: The Grizzlies have very little rim protection beyond Marc Gasol and the Lakers will need to capitalize on this, especially when Gasol is on the bench. They are tied for 25th in blocks per game as a team and the Lakers second unit needs to capitalize on this by driving hard to the hoop and not settling for jumpers. This is of course easier said than done as the Grizzlies have very good perimeter defenders that can keep their guys in front of them . Nonetheless, Jeremy Lin, Wayne Ellington, and Nick Young will need to focus on pounding the ball into the paint when Gasol is on the pine.
Win the Possession Battle: The Lakers and Grizzlies are roughly even in team turnovers per game at 12.2 and 12.0 respectively, which is good for top seven in the league. This means that every possession is even more critical as the Grizzlies take great care of the basketball. The Lakers will have to force as many turnovers as possible, but more importantly, limit their own. Bryant simply can’t have another nine turnover outing tonight if the Lakers are to keep it competitive.
Los Angeles Lakers (10-22) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (23-8)
7:30 PM PST, January 2, 2015
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Grizzlies Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Mike Conley
SG: Courtney Lee
SF: Tony Allen
PF: Jon Leuer
C: Marc Gasol
Key Reserves: PG: Beno Udrih, SG: Vince Carter, SF: Tayshaun Prince
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Ronnie Price
SG: Kobe Bryant
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Ed Davis
C: Jordan Hill
VIDEO: Ed Davis Suffers Broken Nose