Los Angeles Lakers: Could the Grizzlies beat the Lakers in the playoffs?

Los Angeles Lakers(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Los Angeles Lakers(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

The Memphis Grizzlies are a possible first-round opponent for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Does history have a chance of repeating itself? The Memphis Grizzlies kicked off the Grit and Grind era when they upset the #1 seeded Spurs in 2011. Can this happen again for the Grizzlies by defeating the Los Angeles Lakers?

Yes. They have a chance. Not a good one though.

The Los Angeles Lakers are the clear favorite to win the title. Yes, the numbers say the Milwaukee Bucks are the favorite. Defense wins championships. The Bucks are superior to the Lakers in both defensive and net rating.

Milwaukee Bucks: Defensive Rating 101.6; Net Rating: 10.7
Los Angeles Lakers: Defensive Rating 105.5; Net Rating: 7.1

But the numbers are wrong. Numbers don’t lie in the regular season. They do in the playoffs.  Championship experience matters much more. The Lakers have it; the Bucks do not. Vegas agrees: the Lakers are the favorites with Milwaukee and the Clippers close behind… then the drop off begins with the Celtics and Rockets (via OddsShark).

Team odds:

  • Los Angeles Lakers: +200
  • Milwaukee Bucks: +240
  • Los Angeles Clippers: +300
  • Boston Celtics: +1200
  • Houston Rockets: +1300

This will also be the last time the Lakers are the clear favorites. Next season, the competition is brutal: Boston and the LA Clippers are a year better with improved chemistry among their stars; Golden State and Brooklyn will have two superstars returning; Houston and Toronto will run it back one last time; Denver, Miami, and Philly are one player away.

I count 11 teams.  This season is going to be the only time where the Lakers are the clear favorites. Next season is a lot murkier.

LeBron and the Lakers know all this. Their sense of urgency has been there all season long. It will not let up at any point in the playoffs.

Another factor: the Grizzlies are 1-3 against the Lakers this year. See Ja Morant’s stats in each of those games. If he plays well, they have a chance. Well duh!  Ja Morant obviously has to play at a superstar level for Memphis to have a chance.

What else will Memphis have to do to remain competitive against the Los Angeles Lakers? Grit and Grind?

OG Memphis upset San Antonio because their effort on both ends was just incredible. Zach Randolph was unstoppable. Tony Allen was better than first-team all-defense.

Make no mistake about it: the upset was all Memphis. The #1 seed in the West did not suddenly become 10 points worse on offense.

Regular Season: FG 47.5% 3PT 39.7% PPG 103.7
Playoffs vs MEM: FG 43.6% 3PT 29.4% PPG 94.3

Today’s Memphis does not play the same kind of defense. They are in the bottom half of nearly every defensive metric, except for opponent FG%. They cannot physically impose their will as did their Grit and Grind predecessors.

Grizzlies big men Jaren Jackson III, Jonas Valančiūnas, and Brandon Clarke can at least make it difficult for Anthony Davis, but good luck asking Dillon Brooks to guard LeBron James in a best of 7 series. Brooks wants the smoke… but he’ll get smoked; LeBron is just too big. Their other would-be potential LeBron stoppers were traded to Miami.

So, winning by defense alone is out. These new Grizzlies can’t beat the Lakers playing like the old Grizzlies.

What about offense?

LeBron’s last NBA finals loss to a team not named the Warriors was in 2014 to the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs won the NBA Championship by re-revolutionizing basketball: running a beautiful offense with stellar ball movement, pinpoint passing, and timely cuts.

Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins just so happens to have coached under Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer, who coached under Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. The Grizzlies are second in the league with assists per game.

Can the Grizzlies recreate the 2014 Spurs?

No. Their strengths lie elsewhere.

The Grizzlies and Bucks run a 5-out dribble-drive offense. This offense is designed for Ja Morant and Giannis Antetokounmpo, each team’s respective go-to guy, to attack the basket at will. Their system plays right into the Los Angeles Lakers’ hands, as it did with the Raptors in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals.

The Lakers’ defense excels in stopping the dribble-drive offense. They lead the league in blocked shots and are eighth in points allowed in the paint. Unless if the Grizzlies suddenly come out of this quarantine running an offense like the 2014 Spurs, beating the Los Angeles Lakers in the half-court is not happening.

Their only chance is to channel LeBron’s top nemesis in the playoffs: the Golden State Warriors – not the ridiculously overpowered Warriors dynasty, the forerunner to the Grit and Grind era: The We Believe Warriors.

The true Warriors.

The Dallas Mavericks had a 67-15 record going into the 2007 playoffs. Dirk Nowitzki was the MVP.  But Golden State was the favorite. They were just a bad matchup – the Warriors went 3-0 against the Mavericks then beat them 4-2 in the playoffs.

The Grizzlies were 1-3 against the Lakers this season.

Does this mean the Lakers will sweep? It doesn’t look good for the Grizzlies, but the Lakers have one weakness they can exploit: transition defense. The Lakers are tied for last in fast-break points allowed per game. The Grizzlies have to play the exact opposite of Grit and Grind to have a chance to compete: run and gun.

Ja Morant will benefit the most from an AAU-style run-n-gun game. Avery Bradley is not playing.  Nobody else on the Lakers qualifies as a ball-pressuring menace on defense. Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard, and Javale McGee would have a much tougher time blocking his shots if they are backpedaling on defense.

Defensive strengths and weaknesses are magnified in a fast-paced game. Fouls are overlooked at times. The Grizzlies foul a lot, especially Dillon Brooks and Jaren Jackson III, two starters who rank in the top 5 in fouls per game.

More possessions in the game equal more fouls. Brooks and Jackson III will likely guard LeBron James and Anthony Davis respectively. That’s bad. On a more positive note, the Grizzlies rank in the top 5 in defensive rebounding. Their defensive efficiency will improve as more shots are taken.

The numbers might be telling the truth here: the Lakers have the Grizzlies beat in a fast-paced game. They average more fast break points per game than the Grizzlies (ranked second and fourth, respectively). Also, the Lakers have the highest field goal percentage in the league.

What about shooting threes and hoping for the best?

Again, the numbers do not lie here. Shooting a bunch of threes and trusting the math is NOT a foolproof solution to stay competitive in any scenario. The shooting percentages are fairly close, unless if you want to use the slight advantage in FT% to justify a Hack-A-Shaq strategy.

Shooting Battle

Memphis Grizzlies: FG 47.0% FT 76.1% 3PT 35.2%
Los Angeles Lakers: FG 48.5% FT 73.0% 3PT 35.5%

Sorry to burst your (Disney) bubble. Memphis pulling off the upset is probably not going to happen.  Even being competitive will take the Grizzlies playing way over their heads. Maybe this happens once or twice.  But in a seven-game series? Not happening. And I love the Grizzlies. This has nothing to do with any of their shortcomings; it is more about the Lakers and how good they are. In short, I would be very surprised if the Grizzlies win a single game in this series.

Next. Could the Pelicans beat the Lakers?. dark

Prediction: Los Angeles Lakers win 4-0