There are many takes on who will come out on top in the upcoming Western Conference playoff series between the second-seeded Memphis Grizzlies and seventh-seeded Los Angeles Lakers. Infamous Grizzlies mouthpiece Dillon Brooks seems supremely confident in his squad’s chances against LeBron James and co.
It is never a good idea to bet against LeBron in the playoffs, but Memphis is a hungry pack that is ready to announce their arrivals as legitimate contenders in the Western Conference. Taking down the King would undeniably evidence their graduation from the kiddie pool to the deep end.
Deciphering the true favorite in this series takes some in-depth analysis. Basketball is a team sport, but each individual matchup will be crucial in this series. Memphis may have the upper hand in terms of seeding, but do they have the advantage in each matchup? Let’s take a closer look.
Lakers vs Grizzlies, the starting five:
PG: Ja Morant > D’Angelo Russell
With all due respect to D’Lo, who is certainly a high quality NBA point in his own right, Ja Morant is arguably the top floor general in the league currently. Ja is the unquestioned commander in Memphis, and his aggression in this series should only stand to trickle down to the rest of his troops. Guys like Jarred Vanderbilt, Dennis Schroder, and Troy Brown Jr will surely try their hand at containing him, but at the end of the day Ja is going to get his.
That is not to say that Russell will not have his fingerprints all over the outcome of this series. Despite a shaky Play-In game, Darvin Ham has expressed confidence in D’Lo to bounce back in the playoffs. As the third option in LA, the pressure will be on D’Lo to provide back-up to LeBron and AD throughout the series.
SG: Desmond Bane > Austin Reaves
Bane’s numbers paint the picture of someone that should have a large advantage in this match-up, but Reaves’ post-All-Star break performance make this the tightest leg in the race. However, #22 is still the better overall player at this point in his career.
Known primarily as a 3-point splasher since entering the league, Bane has matured in all areas of his game each year. Not only will he be looked to as the second offensive option to Morant in the series, but he will also be counted on to spell Dillon Brooks for some minutes defending LeBron. He has already proven that he is not afraid of that challenge.
Similar to Russell, how Reaves handles the bright lights in this playoff series (his first as an NBA pro) will have a large impact on whether or not the Lakers advance to the West semis. He has rapidly grown up in his sophomore season, and he is about to receive his first major test in the league.
SF: Dillon Brooks < LeBron James
Dillon Brooks may be labeled as a clown by many NBA fans, but his game is actually no joke. His grittiness encapsulates the Grizzlies’ philosophy to a tee. He has never met a hurdle that he was afraid to jump, and he is subtly an effective complementary weapon on offense.
Regardless, this is LeBron freakin’ James he is facing off with. Do we even need to elaborate any further?
PF: Jaren Jackson Jr > Jarred Vanderbilt
After turning in a season that should yield some Defensive Player of the Year hardware, Triple J has established himself as one of the top bigs in the league. His presence down low will be vital in each contest, as the Lakers are among the NBA leaders in paint points per game.
On the other side of the court, Jackson is no slouch. He is already quite possibly the top floor-spacing big body in the NBA. If he is hitting shots from outside, he is a nightmare for opponents.
Vando will assume a lot of responsibility in defending Ja Morant in each game and will put forth his maximum effort without question. He will play a big role in this series, but he is clearly not currently on the same level as JJJ.
C: Xavier Tillman < Anthony Davis
Steven Adams would be in this spot were it not for a lingering knee injury that will keep him out throughout the entire 2023 postseason. Xavier Tillman is a solid backup NBA center, and gives the Grizzlies a tough option to throw at AD down low in the trenches. But not even the combination of Adams and Tillman offer enough to shut Davis down completely.
Jaren Jackson Jr will also absorb some of the responsibility in preventing AD from dominating, but he is also not on the same level as AD right now (give him a few years and then let’s talk, though). There have been loads of criticism thrown at Anthony Davis since becoming a Laker, and this is a great chance for him to quiet his hecklers similar to the way he did in the 2020 Bubble.
If Davis returns to that form in this series, we should soon have another article similar to this comparing Los Angeles to the winner of the Kings-Warriors series.