The Los Angeles Lakers will play in their most winnable game on paper in some time when they look to snap a three-game losing streak while hosting the Memphis Grizzlies at Staples Center on Wednesday night.
The Lakers have lost six of their last seven games, but have done so against all playoff teams, something the lottery-bound Grizzlies are decidedly not. Memphis, which is sitting well outside the playoff picture at 14th in the Western Conference, looks all set to end a seven-year stretch in which they made the playoffs each season.
The Grizzlies had previously played in the postseason just three times prior in their entire franchise history. They may still have Marc Gasol manning the pivot, but these are far from those same Grizzlies.
Memphis saw the “Grit and Grind” era come to a halt this past offseason when Zach Randolph and Tony Allen were allowed to depart in free agency.
Perennial almost-All-Star Mike Conley is still on the roster, but he’s also missed the majority of the season with Achilles soreness and has no timetable for his return.
Without those players or rallying cry to fall back on, the Grizzlies have fallen to 27th in the Western Conference in offensive efficiency, and can no longer fall back on their defense, which is now middle of the pack rather than a top-10 or top-five unit.
In past years the Grizzlies used any injuries as a rallying cry for an improbable playoff run, but this year’s roster has seen that magical streak of immortality against all odds end amid the firing of head coach David Fizdale and injury woes.
The Lakers are also nursing a few maladies heading into Wednesday night’s contest. Lonzo Ball will miss the game as he and the team show caution with his recovery from a left shoulder sprain.
Brandon Ingram looks probable to play after missing the Lakers’ Christmas Day loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, but he will do so while nursing two quad injuries. The Lakers are also still without starting center Brook Lopez, meaning several players will need to step up if the team is going to end it’s losing skid.
Kyle Kuzma has been on an absolute tear in recent games as he’s moved into the starting lineup, scoring 27.8 points per game while shooting a screen-singing 56.4 percent on threes over the Lakers’ last five contests. Memphis doesn’t appear to have an obvious answer for stopping him on defense.
With Jordan Clarkson presumably back in the starting lineup in Ball’s absence, the team will also need Julius Randle to carry the bulk of the scoring and creation load for their bench.
Randle has been more than up to the task this year while 20.6 points and 10.3 rebounds per-36 minutes, a total of minutes he could work towards if he plays well enough given the Lakers’ injuries despite only averaging 22.3 per game this season.
With Memphis entering on the second night of a road back-to-back, the Lakers haven’t had a game that appears this winnable all month. These are the types of games they have to win if they want to keep their playoff hopes on life support, and it will be interesting to see if they play down to their competition, or just take advantage in the slight break in the toughest month of their schedule.
Los Angeles Lakers (11-21) Vs. Memphis Grizzlies (10-24)
7:30 p.m. PT, Dec. 27, 2017
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Jordan Clarkson
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: Kyle Kuzma
C: Andrew Bogut
Key Reserves: Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr., Josh Hart, Alex Caruso
Projected Grizzlies Starting Lineup:
PG: Tyreke Evans
SG: Andrew Harrison
SF: Dillon Brooks
PF: Chandler Parsons
C: Marc Gasol
Key Reserves: Kobi Simmons, Brandan Wright, James Ennis III
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