Recap: Lakers grit and grind their way to a win against Grizzlies

MEMPHIS, TN – NOVEMBER 23: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers handles the ball against Kyle Anderson #1 of the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum on November 23, 2019 in Memphis, Tennessee. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Brandon Dill/Getty Images)

The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 109-108 on Saturday night. On the second night of a back-to-back, the Lakers got the job done and handled a stingy Memphis team to help them tie their longest winning streak (seven games) of this young season.

Defensive struggles early on the road

The Lakers allowed 35 first quarter points tonight. If it was to the Clippers, or Bucks, or even a fully healthy Warriors team, that would be understandable. But it was to Memphis, and it was the second straight night on the road that the Lakers have struggled to defend. The Grizzlies went on to make their first seven shots from distance, which begs the question: why didn’t the Lakers run the “make every shot you take” play more often?

Of course, that’s a joke, but it’s hard not to be concerned with the Lakers hemorrhaging points at the moment, with Oklahoma City scoring 127 points the night before (scoring a modest 33 in the first quarter). The reality is that it was the second night of a back-to-back, and the starters missed an opportunity to get some rest last night when they couldn’t put away OKC in the third quarter, so some exhaustion could be expected. Though the Lakers are third in the NBA in defensive rating, they’re middle of the pack when it comes to defending on the road, with a rating of 108.4 good for 13th in the NBA.

Rookie sensation Ja Morant, second year man Jaren Jackson Jr. and veteran Jae Crowder seemed to score at will against a slow Lakers defense, and gashed them repeatedly from both outside and in the paint.

It’s another frustrating performance on the road, with the team clearly not at their best, but you can put an asterisk next to this one given the fickle nature of back-to-backs in the NBA (load management or not). It was a good sign that LA was able to stop the bleeding and hold Memphis to only 108 points on the night after their rough start to the game on the defensive end.

The bench steps up

One night after struggling against the Thunder, the bench unit did its part to help the Lakers get another road win. Rajon Rondo continued to be a divisive figure, but wound up +4 with a 14-6-5 line to help the Lakers come back to beat Memphis on the road.

It’s been an up and down season for the bench unit, but tonight was a step in the right direction, with key buckets helping prevent the Grizzlies from extending their lead and keeping Los Angeles in the game.

Just a normal Year 17

The only normal thing about LeBron is that nothing he does is normal. It’s Year 17 and he absolutely carried the sleepwalking Lakers through this one. On a night where his running mate Anthony Davis had issues asserting his dominance, LeBron continued to improve on his 17 year sample size and simply dominated an overmatched Memphis squad. With 30 points to go alongside his 4 assists and 6 rebounds, LeBron is showing just how dominant he can be, and that’s a scary proposition.

It was also encouraging that he did not rest on the second night of a back-to-back, but load management will be crucial. He’s still almost 35 years old, and continues to be superhuman, but the Lakers will still hope to have him fresh when the games really count in April, May, and June. That being said, I wouldn’t bet on him to play all 82 games, win the finals, and then run a couple of marathons just for fun. He’s more machine than human.

The Lakers are continue their 4 game road trip with a visit to the struggling San Antonio Spurs on Monday, who are sitting at 6-11 and well out of the playoff picture at the moment.

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