The Los Angeles Lakers will bring their new fast-paced offense on the road again Friday night, when they head east to face the young and hungry Memphis Grizzlies. While the Lakers have gotten off to a slow start this season, it has been the exact opposite for the Grizzlies. They have gone 8-2 to start the season and are currently tied with the San Antonio Spurs for first place in the Southwest Division.
Los Angeles will be looking to get back on track following a tough loss to the Sacramento Kings on November 21, but there is more to this game than just regaining ground in the Pacific Division. Believe it or not, the Lakers have yet to win a game on the road this year. It's not going to be any easier to get over that hump in Memphis, with the Grizzlies playing aggressive defense from start to finish.
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni will also again be without star point guard Steve Nash, who continues to recover from a leg fracture and has no timetable for a return. With Steve Blake still hurting from an abdominal strain, Darius Morris and Chris Duhon will be running the point yet again.
Memphis will surely look to take full advantage of the shorthanded Lakers, stopping at nothing to protect their home turf and making sure that Los Angeles remains winless on the road. With their youth matched up against the Lakers' experience, this is sure to be a great game.
Time: Friday, November 23rd, 8:00 p.m. EST
TV: SPSO, TSOH
Records: Los Angeles Lakers (6-6) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (8-2)
Betting Lines: Los Angeles (+4 1/2), Memphis (-4 1/2)
Injuries: Steve Nash (leg, out), Steve Blake (abdomen, out)
Key Storyline: Lakers Look to End Road Woes Against Dangerous Memphis Youth
The Lakers have looked a lot better since Mike D'Antoni replaced Mike Brown as head coach, but they have yet to win a game on the road, standing 0-3 away from home. They will look to end that streak at the loud FedEx Forum, where the Memphis Grizzlies will look to assert themselves as one the Western Conference's elite.
This game has the makings of a defensive showdown, with the Lakers' fast-paced offensive game going against the Grizzlies' blue-collar mentality in the paint. Los Angeles may have more championship experience, but young Memphis will stop at nothing to shut the Lakers down by any means necessary.
The fact is that Memphis has home-court advantage, so they'll be looking to dictate how the game is played. Whether it means dominating the defensive game or outplaying Los Angeles on offense, there's going to be one goal in mind: protect the territory and just win the game.
The last thing the Lakers want is to leave Memphis with a sub-.500 record, so they'll be locked in from start to finish. No matter how you look at it, this will be a great game to watch.
Key Matchup: Pau Gasol vs. Zach Randolph
Here, we have a tale of two power forwards. First, we have Zach Randolph, a former score-first player who has fine-tuned his defense to the point where he is leading the league in rebounding, with 13.8 boards per game. He has also kept up with his scoring, averaging 16.7 points per contest.
Then there is Pau Gasol, a seven-footer who prefers to work outside the paint rather than draw contact under the basket. On the season, he is averaging 14 points and 9.5 rebounds.
These two men's styles could not be any more different, particularly in a game as important as this one. The Lakers are going to look to control the offensive tempo from the opening tip, whereas the Grizzlies are going to look to slow down the run-and-gun and turn the game into a battle of defenses.
This means that Gasol needs to do more than stand just outside the paint and wait for the ball to come to him. He may not be as muscular as the 6'9", 260-pound Randolph, but he has a distinct height advantage that he absolutely must use. He has averaged a double-double for the Lakers each of the past three seasons, so he's more than capable of putting in a good defensive effort.
He needs to be willing to take a few shots from Randolph as well as dish out some of his own. He can't rely on his jumper and be afraid to get his hands dirty in the scrum for a rebound. At 7'0", 250 pounds, he just needs to use his size.
It's still not going to be easy for him, as Randolph's new attitude on defense is going to make for an epic battle all night long. Despite the height disadvantage, Randolph is going to go after every rebound and do everything he can to outplay Gasol under the basket.
If the Lakers are to come away with a victory, Gasol cannot allow that to happen. So long as he remains committed to beating Randolph, Los Angeles will have a chance.
X-Factor: Kobe Bryant
Dwight Howard is definitely going to need to have a good game, as his poor free-throw shooting has led to some teams employing a strategy dubbed "Hack-A-Howard." However, he is still more experienced than Memphis center Marc Gasol and will have a distinct upper hand in their battles in the paint.
That leaves the pressure on the Black Mamba, who will be waiting for the perfect moment to strike.
It helps that Bryant has been playing with an extra bounce in his step since Brown was fired, averaging 27.2 points in the seven games since. He also seems to really enjoy playing in Mike D'Antoni's offense, as do the rest of his teammates.
His Lakers are going to have a big challenge in beating Memphis, and being without Nash and Blake only makes a win more difficult. This means that Bryant has to take control of the offense and be a good playmaker as well as a phenomenal scorer. He can definitely do this, having averaged 5.6 assists per game since Brown's firing.
Bryant is also one of the most clutch players in the game today, which makes it all the more important that his shots fall against the Grizzlies. If Memphis should go on a run at any point, Bryant needs to be the one willing to take the hard shots and get the Lakers back in the game. At the same time, he has to be willing to let the rest of his teammates get involved.
D'Antoni's run-and-gun system may call for a fast-paced team play, but one thing is certain: No matter how many stars are on the roster, the Lakers are still Kobe Bryant's team.
In Memphis, it is critical that he drive that point home if Los Angeles is to walk away with the win.
This may seem like an easy win for the Grizzlies, as they are the better team in the standings and were also the ones to hand the New York Knicks their first loss. It would make sense if Memphis did win, as the Lakers are still trying to shake off a slow start and get back to the top of the Pacific Division.
However, fans should be prepared for an upset special, because the Lakers are going to break out the experience card to win this game.
Kobe Bryant is going to have a great scoring night as usual, and he will also dish out some key assists while playing some tight defense. He'll nail clutch three-pointers and maybe even throw down a dunk.
On defense, look for Howard to have another double-double in spite of a poor performance at the free-throw line. Marc Gasol will make him work hard, but the three-time Defensive Player of the Year's experience will ultimately win out.
Even Pau Gasol will have a fine game on defense. He won't get as many rebounds as Zach Randolph, but he will have enough to make a difference as the Lakers finally win a game on the road.
Memphis will surely put up a fine effort, but it's not going to be enough, as their youth and inexperience will be exposed on their home court.
Los Angeles Lakers 113, Memphis Grizzlies 109