If the Lakers and Grizzlies met up in the first round!
Nearing the end of a rollercoaster season that included the firing of a head coach, the death of their beloved owner, numerous injuries and less than expected play from Dwight Howard a recent run of solid play finds the Lakers in the playoff hunt. Unfortunately their difficult start to the season has put them in a position that will most likely see them face the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs or Memphis Grizzlies in the first round.
Although their respective records make Grizzlies vs. Lakers series unlikely it would be an interesting matchup nonetheless.Hereís a breakdown of a potential Grizzlies/Lakers first round matchup.
The Season Series: The Lakers just donít match up very well with Memphis. The Grizzlies are the biggest and most physical team in the league and the combination of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph has had their way with the Lakers in their two games so far this season. The two games, both played in Memphis, have followed the same pattern. The Grizzlies have dominated the glass and have had balance scoring. In 120 minutes of basketball the Grizzlies have out-rebounded the Lakers by a total of 29 rebounds. In each game the Grizzlies have had at least five players score in double figures. The Grizzlies are big, physical and deep, three characteristics that donít necessarily define this yearís Laker team. The interior force of the Marc Gasol/Zach Randolph duo is exemplified by the fact that Dwight Howard has two of his worst games of the season versus Memphis, scoring a total of nine points in the two games combined, to go along with seven rebounds.
Key Matchup for the Lakers: Easy, the Lakers need production from Dwight Howard. As noted above Howard had his worst two games of the year versus Memphis. With his play and health improving as the year went on Howard, combined with the intensity of a playoff series, the Lakers should get more out of Howard. If the big man continues his subpar games and continues to allow the Grizzlies to dominate the boards it will be tough for the Lakers to win the series. With the emergence of Darrell Arthur and the acquisition of Ed Davis from Toronto the Grizzlies have become even bigger and more physical.
Key Matchup for the Grizzlies: Mike Conley versus Steve Nash. Although Mike Conley hasnít lived up to the expectations of a high draft choice heís turned into a quality NBA point guard who plays a ton of minutes, is extremely quick, hits his foul shots and typically doesnít turn the ball over. His youth and athleticism will be a challenge for Steve Nash. Conley has quietly become one of the top defensive point guards in the league and is currently second in the league in steals. His energy on the defensive end, combined with quickness offensively, could be a big factor in wearing down Steve Nash.
Home Court Advantage: With a 27-8 home record the Grizzlies have a strong home court advantage, something that was on display in the first two games between the clubs this season. As the last couple of playoffs season have shown the Memphis crowd gets louder and more electric come playoff time. If this series does materialize the Lakers will have to steal a game in Memphis early to have any chance to win the series. Judging by their results so far this season and how the teams match up that may be a tall task.
Health: The Lakers have had more significant injury issues than the Spurs and with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol set to return soon theyíll have their full roster for the first time in months. The key for the Lakers will be to stay healthy down the stretch and ensuring the best playoff seeding while avoiding playing their aging stars too many minutes. The Grizzlies havenít had any significant injury issues.
Prediction: This would be an extremely difficult series for the Lakers. The Grizzlies are just too young, athletic and big inside. The most underrated aspect of the Grizzlies game is on the defensive end where they are dominant on the boards and have a potential defensive player of the year, Marc Gasol, manning the interior. Combine Gasol with the perimeter defense of Mike Conley and the all over energy of Tony Allen and Memphis is extremely adept at taking teams outside of their comfort zone. When you play Memphis it is literally a game of attrition. Itís hard to see the Lakers coming out on top versus the Grizzlies.
By: Chris Michaels