The Los Angeles Lakers face the Memphis Grizzlies in a second of the back-to-back clashes, having ended their five-game losing streak the night before.
As L.A. beat the Houston Rockets 132-123 on Tuesday, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook both registered a triple-double — a feat achieved by a Lakers duo in a single game only twice before.
The Lakers will need James and Westbrook — as well as Malik Monk and Carmelo Anthony, who put up 20-point-plus performances yesterday — to play with the same intensity if they want to retake the lead in the season series with the Grizzlies.
Memphis played without Dillon Brooks and Ja Morant when it beat Los Angeles 108-95 in early December.
Morant will face the Lakers this time around, although Brooks will miss the clash alongside Jarret Culver, De’Anthony Melton, and Zaire Williams, among others.
Meanwhile, L.A. will be without Austin Reaves and Kent Bazemore again — even though they have tested out of the NBA’s health and safety protocols. Trevor Ariza, Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Nunn, and Anthony Davis will also watch the game from the sidelines.
However, Wayne Ellington is set return to action after missing the win over Houston with non-coronavirus-related health issues.
Morant’s return provides the Grizzlies’ offense with a major boost. The third-year guard is averaging 23.7 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 6.8 assists this year — continuing his growth as a multi-level scorer.
Morant is shooting 35% from beyond the arc while also registering 14.2 points per night in the paint this year — trailing only Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic in that area.
That means the Lakers need to fare much better on the defensive end than they did on Tuesday. Despite the win over the Rockets, they registered their fourth-worst defensive rating of the season that night (121.8).
Among potential game plan changes, David Fizdale has mentioned the possibility of entrusting Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan — who enjoyed a night off in Houston — with serious rotation minutes considering the size of Memphis’ roster.
Besides, L.A.’s small-ball lineup suffered in the previous clash with the Grizzlies — which was to be expected. They lead the NBA in offensive rebounds (13.0 per game) and total rebounds (47.3) this year.
That also gives Stanley Johnson another chance to prove he deserves to stay in L.A. beyond his 10-day contract. Although average on offense, Johnson has impressed with his effort on the defensive end since signing with the Lakers, adding a much-needed wing coverage to the team’s roster.
His energy on defense will be all the more important going against the young, dangerous Grizzlies side. Just as important as another night marked by a team effort from the Lakers — who have learned the hard way James can’t single-handedly win games for them.
Lakers (17-18) vs. Grizzlies (21-14)
5:00 p.m. PT, Dec. 29, 2021
FedEx Forum, Memphis, Tennessee
TV: NBA TV, Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM ESPN
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup
PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: Avery Bradley
SF: Malik Monk
PF: LeBron James
C: Dwight Howard
Key Reserves: Stanely Johnson, Carmelo Anthony, Darren Collison
Projected Grizzlies Starting Lineup:
PG: Ja Morant
SG: Desmond Bane
SF: Kyle Anderson
PF: Jaren Jackson
C: Steven Adams
Key Reserves: John Konchar, Ty Jones, Killian Tillie
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