In celebrating the return to basketball, we will be previewing potential first-round playoff series between the Los Angeles Lakers and the six teams who could finish as the eighth seed after eight seeding games in Orlando. Today’s team is the Memphis Grizzlies.
What’s Poppin? As the NBA news cycle continues to revolve around Magic City, we’re taking a look at a potential first round matchup for the Lakers inside the Magic’s City with a young, upstart Memphis Grizzlies team. Memphis is going to be without Justise Winslow, who fell awkwardly and injured his hip in a team practice, but should have their full complement of players outside of him.
To refresh everyone’s memories a bit, the Lakers have played Memphis four times thus far, with the Lakers winning the first 3 matchups before the Grizzlies took the fourth. The first game between the teams – way back in October – was a 29 point blowout that seems to be an outlier, as the remaining two wins were much more competitive: a hotly contested 1 point game in which Los Angeles trailed by 5 with 3 minutes remaining, and a 12 point win that saw Memphis almost completely erase a 19 point halftime deficit. The lone Grizzlies win was a 17 point victory that was powered by strong showings from Rookie of the Year candidate Ja Morant (27 pts, 14 assists), Jonas Valenciunas (22 pts, 19 rebounds), and Dillon Brooks (24 pts). The Lakers shot an abysmal 9/35 from deep in that game.
So, is there anything for the Lakers to take from these previous matchups, other than they should run the “don’t let Jonas Valenciunas have a 20-20 game against you” play? Let’s take a look at the numbers.
The Lakers have shown that they can defensively match up with Memphis extremely well, as Memphis’ numbers drop significantly in most offensive areas statistically when playing Los Angeles. Their points per game drop from over 112 to 102, shooting more than four percent worse from the floor and 2.3% worse from three. Their offensive rating plummets from 108.9 (good for 20th in the league) to 100.7. When you adjust the numbers to reflect how the entire league performs against the Lakers, that 100.7 number finishes…20th in the league. Memphis’ eFG% drops significantly as well when they play the Lakers.
Simply put – Memphis is not a team well equipped to score on the Lakers. If this is to be the Lakers’ first round matchup, then look for Memphis to slow it down and try to establish their big men down low. Memphis actually plays at the 7th fastest pace in the league (this isn’t your older siblings’ Grizzlies!), and they slow down slightly when playing Los Angeles finishing 11th in pace in those matchups through their 4 games.
Defensively and on the boards, Memphis has tended to play better though, with upticks in rebounds, blocks, and steals, and their 106.1 defensive rating in matchups against the Lakers is the fourth best in the league. In their 3 victories over Memphis, Los Angeles was able to win the turnover battle, but in their lone loss of the season to this Grizzlies squad, Memphis only turned it over seven times to the Lakers’ 14. The Grizzlies thrive off the chaos their defense creates and the transition opportunities it provides.
When you look conceptually at what Los Angeles would have to do against Memphis, it becomes simpler to see what a winning game plan would be: limit Ja Morant’s creativity and block off his runs to the rim, focus on boxing out their centers, and you live if a role player decides to go off. Keeping Morant quiet will not be easy given his talent and the recent turnover at the guard spots, but this is where Anthony Davis being a DPOY candidate comes in handy. He’ll have to avoid foul trouble while keeping Morant uncomfortable in the paint. The easiest way to lose to this Grizzlies outfit is a lack of concentration or focus, and losing the turnover battle. Do the simple things right (rebounding), focus on limiting Morant, and stay patient offensively.
It’s no coincidence that the Lakers’ offensive rating takes a big hit against Memphis given the effort that the team puts in on the defensive end with Jaren Jackson Jr. and Valenciunas the anchors. Losing patience on the offensive end makes any game harder, but when you’re playing a team that does so well when they have a positive turnover margin, it’s vitally important to play smart basketball, something that is miles easier when the engine of your team is LeBron James.