It’s easy to blow off last night’s loss to the Grizzlies as just a regular season game when, in reality, the implications of this game go much beyond the regular season. If the playoffs had begun yesterday, nothing would have changed in terms of last night’s game as the Memphis Grizzlies would have played the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round with the Lakers holding home court. It’s true that in the wild, wild West, playoff seedings can change literally on a daily basis but the Memphis Grizzlies are the one team that the Lakers should want to avoid in playoffs. Last night showed why.
The Grizzlies matchup with the Lakers probably better than any other team in the West. They have the strength inside with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph to matchup with the Laker bigs of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. They have the athleticism of Rudy Gay who causes matchup problems for both Matt Barnes and Metta World Peace. To top it all off, the Grizzlies have Tony Allen, who is one of the few perimeter defenders in the league who really makes Kobe work for everything. Because of how well the Grizzlies match up, it is evident that the Lakers really do not have a clear advantage anywhere across the board. This makes it critical for that the Lakers really control the pace of the game by limiting turnovers, controlling rebounds, being efficient from the field, and getting solid contributions off the bench. None of the above happened last night, and thus the result should not come as a surprise.
The Lakers were in trouble right from the beginning as both Kobe and Pau struggled to get into any sort of offensive rhythm. Andrew Bynum bailed the Lakers out early by asserting himself inside and dominating the first quarter with eight points on only three shots. This changed when the Grizzlies started double-teaming inside, making Bynum uncomfortable and forcing turnovers. The Grizzlies lead the league in steals and the Lakers are top ten in the league in turnovers. That’s not a good combination for the Lakers especially when you add the fact that none of the Lakers wanted to play transition defense last night.
Despite how bad the Lakers played in the first half, they ended up going on a 15-0 run in the middle of the third quarter, capped off by a Ramon Sessions three-point shot. The Lakers looked like they were clicking on all cylinders, with Kobe and Pau getting back on track offensively, and the top ten Laker defense starting to show its true colors. However, a Grizzlies timeout changed the complexion of the game and the Lakers were never able to get back on track again, taking bad shots, turning the ball over, and not getting back in transition. It became an ugly game to watch if you are a Lakers fan as the Grizzlies exploited all of the Lakers’ weaknesses. The Laker bench, which normally plays well at home, was outscored 41-9. It did not help that Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol shot 7-15 and 4-15, respectively, contributing to the team’s inefficient field goal percentage of 42.5%.
What’s scary is that the Grizzlies out-rebounded the Lakers 42-38, one of the few teams all season to do so. As dominant as Andrew Bynum was offensively, he finished the game with four rebounds. Andrew Bynum is too big, too strong, too dominant to not snag at least ten rebounds on any given night. The Lakers needed his presence last night on the boards to match the energy and the size of the Grizzlies but he was nowhere to be found. Some of it may be due to lack of effort on his part but alot of it had to do with the size of Marc Gasol, who may not have stopped Andrew from scoring but made sure that the Lakers were limited to one shot, taking away a huge advantage that the Lakers are used to having.
Two more things that are troubling about last night’s loss: the Lakers dropping a game at home and the fact that Mike Brown benched Kobe Bryant at a critical point in the game. The Lakers had lost only three games at home all season prior to their loss last night. Beating the Lakers in Staples will give the Grizzlies confidence that they have the ability to take away home-court from the Lakers should these two teams meet in the playoffs. As for the Mike Brown-Kobe Bryant situation, this was the first time we had seen something of this sort. It came in the middle of the fourth quarter when Kobe missed a tough, contested fall-away jumpshot from the baseline and the Grizzlies ran a 3 on 0 fast break the other way. Both Kobe and Mike Brown were clearly upset and Mike Brown decided to sit his star player, claiming that he “needed to make a sub.” It’s been clear from the beginning of the season that Kobe Bryant wears the pants in this relationship, taking a high volume of contested shots that couldn’t make any coach happy. Last night, Mike Brown made a statement, saying that he has a say on what goes on with the Lakers too.
Now let’s not blow this out of proportion yet. Kobe and Coach Brown have mutual respect for each other and are both mature adults who can figure out what the other is looking for. It’s just something else to keep in mind looking at last night’s loss. Oh, we should also keep in mind that the five of the Lakers last twelve games will be against the Thunder and the Spurs, the top two seeds in the West. The Lakers have yet to play the Spurs this season, and are four and a half games behind them for the second spot in the West after last night’s loss. The Lakers have also now lost two games at home in four tries since the Sessions acquisition, which is the same amount that they had lost in twenty home games prior to the trade. If the Lakers are able to learn from their loss on Sunday, and are able to take care of business against Golden State tomorrow and Oklahoma City on Thursday, and are somehow able to catch the Spurs for the second spot in the West, then much of what I have said could be considered moot points. But for now, the way that the Grizzlies exploited the Lakers weaknesses as well as the general team chemistry problems that plague the Lakers are all concerning as we get closer to the playoffs.
Topics: Andrew Bynum, Golden State Warriors, Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers, Marc Gasol, Matt Barnes, Memphis Grizzlies, Metta World Peace, Mike Brown, Oklahoma City Thunder, Pau Gasol, Ramon Sessions, Rudy Gay, San Antonio Spurs, Tony Allen, Zach Randolph