The Los Angeles Lakers squeaked out an 86-84 win over the Memphis Grizzlies Friday night.
The Los Angeles Lakers went up against arguably the NBA’s best defense Friday night. An 86-84 win over the Memphis Grizzlies wasn’t easy, but it was good enough to put half a game between themselves and the Utah Jazz for eighth place out West.
Against the Grizzlies, you have to play an efficient brand of basketball. Passes must be crisp, ball movement must be swift and you must take advantage of easy looks both at the rim and on the perimeter.
The first half saw L.A. turn the ball over 10 times, but it was able to establish a double-digit lead by creating looks at the basket.
The Lakers were able to get inside, as 22 of their first 30 points came in the paint. Ten turnovers is a problem against this Memphis defense, but their ball movement wasn’t all bad, as they collected 10 assists on their first 16 field goals.
Defensively is where the Lakers allowed Memphis to hang around. They weren’t rotating or getting back in transition, and while the Grizzlies couldn’t score from deep range to save their lives, they were smart enough to get buckets in fast-break and backdoor situations.
Unfortunately for L.A., it opened the second half with a turnover on its first possession, and that would be a theme the rest of the period. Just four minutes into the third quarter, the Lakers gave the ball away four times and allowed the Grizzlies to establish a 10-0 run.
The home team didn’t score a second-half field goal until the six-minute mark of the quarter, and a one-time 13-point lead turned into a seven-point deficit.
Things appeared to be at an all-time low when Dwight Howard picked up his fourth foul, but as soon as the center left the game, the Lakers appeared to gain new life. The turnovers disappeared, the defense tightened up and they were able to take a six-point lead into the final 12 minutes.
The fourth quarter proved to be the most physical stretch of the contest. A back-and-forth game ended with Memphis missing the potential game-tying shot, and while it wasn't always pretty, Los Angeles escaped with an important win with the season winding down.
With Steve Nash out of the lineup, Steve Blake earned the nod once again as the starting point guard.
Blake has earned praise during the 2012-13 season for his ability to step in and make shots. What has been neglected, though, is his overall playmaking and defensive abilities.
It's no secret that Blake isn't the most dynamic player on the floor, but what he lacks in athleticism, he makes up for in tenacity. Unfortunately in this one, his tenacity was only effective enough to hold Mike Conley to 21 points.
On offense, Blake picked up four assists, but what the stat sheet doesn't show is how many good passes he made. His cross-court looks helped set up his teammates, and his occasional willingness to enter the paint really kept Memphis honest.
The problem for Blake is that as good as his passes were, he also gave the ball away a team-high five times. His decision-making was solid, but it's no secret that he's best used off the bench when Nash is healthy.
Jodie Meeks' performance didn't stand out against the Memphis Grizzlies. The 2-guard had a nice game on the boards, as he pulled down five in 26 minutes, but the problem is that those rebounds hardly made up for his efforts on defense.
Memphis isn't just physical when its on defense—it knows how to body up when on offense as well. Meeks had a tough time containing his assignments, and he's a part of the reason the Grizzlies' guards were able to penetrate the paint.
On offense, Meeks couldn't find the bottom of the net until about the eight-minute mark of the fourth quarter. He missed a number of open looks, and he finished just 1-of-5 on the night.
On the season, the 2-guard is hitting 39.5 percent of his shots from behind the arc. On Friday, he missed all four of his deep-range attempts.
Meeks had a night to forget against the Grizzlies, and while he doesn't have to be a superstar, he has to play competent basketball with Metta World Peace out of the lineup.
Coming off a triple-double against the Dallas Mavericks, Kobe Bryant was looking to share the wealth early. He was running the offense with Steve Nash out of the lineup, and he was looking both down low to Dwight Howard and at the elbow to Pau Gasol.
Bryant began to take over the scoring role when Jerryd Bayless entered the game for the Memphis Grizzlies. Bryant recognized the mismatch, and he took him to the paint on multiple occasions to close out the opening period.
Memphis threw a number of defenders his way throughout the duration of the contest, but nobody seemed to effect him on this night. He was using his crossover to create open looks, and when that didn't work, he spotted up and hit difficult shots under extreme duress.
Where Bryant failed to excel was from deep range. His cold streak from three-point land continued, as he missed all five of his shots in that category.
Bryant finished the game with 24 points on 10-of-23 shooting, and he added nine assists and five rebounds.
The Los Angeles Lakers were moving the ball well in the first half, and Pau Gasol was a big reason why.
Like Steve Blake, Gasol isn't going to wow you with his number of assists in this one. The big man collected just three on the night, but it was the quality of his passes that hold more weight than the actual stat.
With Kobe Bryant attracting double-teams, Gasol found himself left alone more than you'd expect. He was smart enough to know when to pass, yet he also torched the defense when it failed to put a hand up on his shot.
When contested, Gasol had trouble hitting inside. The physical nature of the Grizzlies rattled him in the paint, but when he found himself left alone, he took full advantage, scoring 19 points on 57 percent shooting.
As much as Gasol struggled at times to score down low, he did a good job positioning himself for rebounds. He collected nine boards in 36 minutes, which was more than anyone on the Grizzlies was able to grab.
Usually when the guards look to Dwight Howard, it's a sign of good things to come. L.A. took that approach on Friday, but the Grizzlies defense made life difficult for anybody who looked to score down low.
Howard made just two of his first five field-goal attempts. He was having trouble establishing position on the block, and when it came time to post up, his moves had little impact on the massive frames of the Grizzlies.
Entering this game, Howard had completed 14 double-doubles in a row. That streak came to an end, as he recorded nine points and 10 rebounds, but the bigger story is that the team had trouble simply getting him the ball despite looking his way.
To go along with quiet shooting, Howard was on the wrong end of most of the calls Friday night. That doesn't mean, though, that they were necessarily bad calls.
In battles down low with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, Howard had to be physical to earn his production. He was banging with the Grizzlies' frontcourt all game long, and he got caught too many times delivering shots to the bodies of the opposing bigs.
Earl Clark was matched up against two solid defenders in Tayshaun Prince and Tony Allen for much of the night. That didn't stop him, though, from making a difference, as it took him just two minutes off the bench to become the team's leading scorer.
When it comes to Clark, what we've seen all season is smart basketball. The 25-year-old knows when to pass and when to shoot, and it's his basketball IQ that earns him easy looks night after night.
He knows when to attack the basket—with or without the ball—and that was on full display with his energetic start to the contest.
The only problem with Clark's game is that he disappeared in the second and third quarters. When he quieted down is when Memphis took over, so when he re-asserted himself in the final period, it was welcomed by the Lakers and their fans.
The fourth quarter showed just how valuable Clark can be. He was impacting both ends of the floor, which is something most Lakers can't say, and he was a spark of energy when the Lakers needed it most.
With the Los Angeles Lakers still battling injures, the team opted to play just two reserves. Luckily for the team, those two players were Antawn Jamison and Earl Clark—both of whom had solid overall performances.
Both forwards combined for 26 points. The two of them were taking good shots from start to finish, which is a huge reason for their efficient shooting.
Jamison found the stroke from long range early, and he managed to knock down two of his three attempts. Clark wasn't as efficient from behind the arc, but he made up for it by shooting 62.5 percent on the night.
Scoring wasn't the only area where these two had an impact. Clark proved that he could make the hustle plays with the game on the line, and his defensive efforts down the stretch helped keep this one in L.A.'s favor.
The two backups pulled down 10 rebounds, and they are a huge reason this team was in it from start to finish.