Although the 8-2 Memphis Grizzlies had their 8 game winning streak snapped Monday night against the Denver Nuggets 97-92, they are still in first place in the Southwest Division. Granted it is only by percentage points over the 9-3 San Antonio Spurs, but first place is first place. The Grizzlies return from the Thanksgiving break Friday night as they host the so far underachieving 6-6 Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers were widely predicted to be the best team in the Western Conference with the acquisitions of All-Stars point guard Steve Nash and center Dwight Howard. However, a 1-4 start led to the firing of coach Mike Brown. The Lakers flirted with bringing back Phil Jackson as the coach, but ended up hiring former New York Knicks and Phoenix Suns coach Mike D’Antoni. He made his on-court coaching debut Tuesday in the Lakers’ home win over the Brooklyn Nets. D’Antoni is recovering from knee replacement surgery and had been coaching the team in practices only until this week since joining the team November 15.
The Lakers have gone 5-2 since Brown was fired to get back to .500 but looked lethargic in a 113-97 loss at Sacramento Wednesday night. The Kings had the worst record in the West coming into that game with only one win. The Lakers had 20 turnovers and allowed the Kings to shoot 54.3% from the field. The Lakers were down only 73-69 going into the fourth quarter but were outscored 40-28 in the fourth. LA pulled to within 96-92 with just over 3 minutes remaining and it looked like they might escape with a win despite a terrible effort. However, the Kings outscored then 17-5 down the stretch to secure the win and snap a 5 game losing streak.
The Lakers won two of the three meetings last year against the Grizzlies. The Lakers were one of only 5 road teams to win in Memphis last year in the regular season with a 116-111 win in double overtime last March. The Grizzlies won the last meeting 102-96 in Los Angeles March 25.
The Grizzlies had won 15 straight home games in the regular season dating back to last year, before Monday night’s loss to the Nuggets. The Lakers are one of three NBA teams along with the Washington Wizards and Sacramento Kings without a road win this season. Los Angeles is 0-3 on the road this season.
Let’s take a look at how the teams match-up.
The Lakers are outscoring teams 100-97 this season. LA is shooting 46.3% from the field and 35.2% from 3 point range. The Lakers make 67.2% of their free throws, which is last in the league. Laker opponents are shooting 44.1% from the field and 34.8% from 3 point range. The Lakers average 45.3 rebounds per game, and give up 39. LA is #6 in rebounds and leads the league in rebounds allowed. The Lakers average 21 assists, 7.3 steals, 5.7 blocks, and 16.7 turnovers per game.
The Grizzlies are outscoring teams 100-93 this season, and are #7 in both categories in the league. Memphis is shooting 44% from the field including 36.2% from 3 point range. The Grizzlies are second in free throw shooting with 82.4%. Memphis opponents are shooting 43.8% from the field and 35.3% from 3 point range. The Grizzlies are averaging 41.8 rebounds per game and allowing 40.9. Memphis averages 21.4 assists, 9.4 steals per game, 5.5 blocks, and 14 turnovers.
Lionel Hollins has led the Grizzlies to the playoffs for 2 straight years. He and his system are fully entrenched and you know when you watch the Grizzlies, you will get defensive intensity and effort in every game.
D’Antoni meanwhile is still trying to implement his system and it will take time to get all the pieces working. So it is hard to critique him as a coach. I give Hollins the advantage just for that reason.
One of the reason’s for the Lakers’ early struggles has been injuries at the point guard. Nash left the second game of the season with a leg injury that was later diagnosed as a hairline fracture in his lower leg. He is out indefinitely, and will miss at least two more games after this one. Doctor’s say he could be back by early December. Back-up Steve Blake is also out indefinitely with an abdominal injury.
Darius Morris and Chris Duhon are splitting time at the point until Nash and Blake return. Morris is averaging 6.6 points, 1.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists. Duhon is averaging 2.4 assists a game. Really, though guard Kobe Bryant is the primary ball handler without Nash. In fact, the Lakers are 0-5 in games in which Kobe has less than 5 assists. Bryant is averaging 5.2 assists a game.
Memphis point guard Mike Conley, Jr. averages 14.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, 6.6 assists, and 2 steals a game. Jerryd Bayless comes off the bench averaging 7.1 points, 1.3 rebounds, and 2.9 assists.
Without Nash and Blake, a heavy edge goes to Memphis.
Bryant averages 27.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.5 steals per game along with the assists. He is one of the best players in league history. In the rare times Kobe sits down, Jodie Meeks comes off the bench.
Tony Allen starts at shooting guard for the Grizzlies. He is one of the best defenders in the league, and will be tasked with slowing down Bryant. Allen averages 7.5 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 1.8 steals per game. Wayne Ellington averages 6.2 points a game off the bench.
As long as Bryant is on the court, he will have the advantage on very nearly every player in the league.
Dwight Howard had back surgery last April when he was with the Orlando Magic. He was traded to the Lakers in late July, and many though he would miss the first month of the season. Howard has played every game but has struggled at times. In the Sacramento loss Wednesday he took only 4 field goal attempts in 41 minutes. Howard averages 19.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1.1 steals, and 2.7 blocks per game. Jordan Hill comes off the bench averaging 6.8 rebounds and 5.2 rebounds.
While Howard is widely considered the best center in the league when healthy, Grizzlies’ center Marc Gasol is at least in the top 10 if not the top 5. Gasol, whose brother Pau plays for the Lakers, averages 15.1 points, 72.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 1.3 blocks per game. Forward-Center Darrell Arthur is probable to make his debut for the Grizzlies tonight after missing previous 10 games with a stress fracture in his foot.
I give a slight edge to Gasol because I am not sure Howard is completely healthy right now. Plus, Howard has looked lost at times in D’Antoni’s up tempo offense.
Pau Gasol averages 14 points, 9.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.4 blocks a game. Antawn Jamison will come off the bench to spell Gasol. Gasol can also play center if Howard gets into foul trouble. Pau might guard his little brother Marc at times.
Zach Randolph averages 16.7 rebounds, and 13.8 rebounds per game. Marreese Speights averages 6.9 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. He can help out on defense against Howard or Pau.
I think this match-up is pretty even.
Metta World Peace averages 13.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. World Peace is one of the best defenders in the league. Devin Ebanks comes off the bench.
Memphis SF Rudy Gay averages 20 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.2 blocks per game. Quincy Pondexter averages 6.3 points per game off the bench.
I give the edge to gay in this match-up.
We know that once the playoffs start, the Lakers will make a deep run once they learn D’Antoni’s system and get their chemistry issues fixed. However, this team is not very good right now. The Grizzlies win at home.