Anthony Davis’ defense is key for the Lakers vs. the Grizzlies

 Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers must dominate the Memphis Grizzlies on defense

After defeating the San Antonio Spurs twice, the Los Angeles Lakers now face the shorthanded Memphis Grizzlies, who are missing both Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.

Unfortunately, the Lakers are likely going to be without Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for the next few games due to an ankle injury suffered during the second San Antonio game.

RELATED: Los Angeles Lakers: The silver lining of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s injury

At least the Lakers have a few good options to replace KCP in the starting lineup. For Memphis, losing Morant and Jackson Jr is equivalent to the Lakers losing both LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Morant’s injury is especially devastating for Memphis not just because of his viral highlights but also because of his leadership at the point guard position.

In theory, the Lakers should win easily. But as wildlife experts say, there is nothing more dangerous than a wounded (Grizzly) bear protecting what is theirs (the FedEx Forum).

Memphis is 2-1 since Morant got hurt during their overtime win against the Brooklyn Nets. After getting blown out by the Boston Celtics in the next game, they emphatically beat the Charlotte Hornets on the road by 15 points.

Now, Memphis will face the defending champions in two consecutive home games, scheduled for January 3rd at 3 PM and January 5th at 5 PM (both times PST).

But who cares about Memphis? The Lakers’ focus should be on the Lakers. They must build up good habits over the course of the season regardless of their opponent. The offense looked fine judging by LeBron and AD’s brilliant offensive performances. San Antonio’s attempts to stop AD were more futile than defending the Alamo.

RELATED: Los Angeles Lakers: LeBron and AD close out Spurs again, 4 Lessons

Remember the Alamo! Remember this too: Anthony Davis’ defense nearly cost them the game. He admitted almost as much in the postgame press conference (skip to the 3:06 mark to hear his full remarks on his defensive performance).

AD was not too hard on himself. His direct matchup, Keldon Johnson, went off for a career-best 26 points and 10 rebounds. But how Johnson got those 26 points is especially concerning. AD was often out of position defensively, ending up in the no man’s land of help defense. He either has to cut off the passing lane to his man or cut off the immediate drive to the basket.

On this play, he did neither.

https://twitter.com/spurs/status/1345198591187550208

In all fairness to Anthony Davis, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope also made a mistake by reaching in instead of sliding over to cut off Lonnie Walker’s drive. KCP’s mistake was just as egregious considering his man was closer to half court than he was to the basket. Lazily reaching for the ball was an effort-based mistake; AD’s mistake was more execution-based.

Keldon Johnson was the only San Antonio player open on that possession. AD needed to move two steps up to cut off the passing lane to Johnson. He did not need to help on the drive because LeBron James and Marc Gasol were already in the paint.

It also stands to reason KCP should have cut off Walker’s drive in the first place. LeBron did a great job sliding under the screen to stay attached to Walker, while Gasol dropped back to defend the roll man (Jakob Poeltl).

San Antonio likely would have been forced to take a contested mid-range shot at the end of the shot clock if AD had been in the right position. Instead, Johnson knocked down his third three-pointer. How AD defends perimeter players away from the ball is something Lakers coach Frank Vogel should monitor throughout the season.

Coach Vogel can point out execution-based mistakes but he cannot do anything about effort-based mistakes. Johnson easily knocked down his fourth three-point shot because AD failed to closeout in time to contest the shot.

https://twitter.com/NBATV/status/1345200724129456128

Similar to KCP’s reach in earlier, that was an effort-based mistake. Anthony Davis admitted the Lakers did not always play hard on defense against San Antonio, later stating their energy and effort is always within the team’s control.

Johnson was not the only person who feasted on Anthony Davis. Rudy Gay smoked AD like a Memphis-style barbecued chicken from Corky’s on the first and third highlight of this montage (AD was not in the game for the second highlight).

https://twitter.com/spurs/status/1345203581054550017

While guarding perimeter players, Anthony Davis must get in the habit of sliding two steps up to cut off the passing lane to his man if he is one pass away. Being in the right help position when defending a shooter on the wing is second nature to a perimeter player. It does not come as naturally to AD because as a post player his instincts tell him to protect the paint first.

Anthony Davis will once again get to focus on protecting the paint against Memphis. AD will likely guard Brandon Clarke, a traditional power forward known more for his thunderous dunks than his perimeter skills. Or that is what the scouting report said before the last game.

The Lakers coaching staff needs to update the scouting report: Brandon Clarke is now passing the ball like Ja Morant off the pick-and-roll.

https://twitter.com/memgrizz/status/1345182951215144962

Well, that was unexpected. Anthony Davis will also have to step up his on-ball defense. But make no mistake about it, Clarke is still a beast finishing around the basket. He was very merciful to Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan by not shattering the backboard on this lob.

Brandon Clarke is no joke. Neither is Jonas Valančiūnas, Memphis starting center and the centerpiece in the Toronto Raptors midseason trade for Marc Gasol. There must be added motivation for Valančiūnas as he never received a championship ring for his efforts, per the Toronto Sun. 

Gasol was instrumental in bringing home Toronto’s first NBA championship two seasons ago, but Valančiūnas was Toronto’s longtime starting center prior to being traded for Gasol. The Lithuanian has something to prove over these next two games.

In the game’s opening minutes, Lake Show Life viewers should look at the tag team match between AD and Gasol vs Clarke and Valančiūnas as an indicator of how this game will go. If Clarke and Valančiūnas win the battle inside, Memphis stands a chance against the Lakers. It not, the Lakers win both games easily.

In closing, Anthony Davis must play defense like his reputation depends on it. He is a four-time All-NBA defensive player for a reason. He may want to look to the Walking Dead’s Negan for inspiration: the first one is free, then he must shut everything down.

No exceptions, no excuses.

Thank you for taking the time to read Kevin’s Keys. My hope is each Lake Show Life reader is more knowledgeable about Lakers basketball for having read this article. Please leave a comment for further discussion on all things Lakers!