Mar 13, 2012; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) and Los Angeles Lakers power forward Pau Gasol (16) have a talk before the game at the FedEx Forum. Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 116-111. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-US PRESSWIRE
Since the acquisition of Ramon Sessions, the Los Angeles Lakers and their fanbase have had plenty to be excited about. Sessions is the first legitimate point guard to don the purple and gold in over a decade. In his first week with the team, he outplayed all three of the Lakers' high profile stars. It's hard to imagine that level of production being the baseline to expect from Ramon, but the bottom line is that he has failed to disappoint in any contest - even in shooting 1-7 against Utah last Sunday, he went to the free throw line 10 times.
The team, on the other hand, has not failed to disappoint. While Lakers Nation has bathed in the excitement of this new beginning, the team's performance itself has been acceptable, but not spectacular. Three wins vs. two losses, with the two losses coming against mid-level teams missing their best players. Only one of the wins was convincing, but what a convincing win it was. By going into Dallas and demolishing a Mavericks team that should have had both the confidence (from a fine run of play lately) and motivation (Dallas has yet to defeat the Lakers this season), the Lakers showed exactly how potent they can be when all of their players play well.
Hidden beneath the veneer of excitement surrounding Sessions is that Kobe Bryant is struggling right now. Nothing could hide that fact in Utah, where he had one of the worst performances of his career, and the next game in Houston, which resulted in a loss, took center stage as well. But he shot poorly in Friday's win over Portland as well, 5-17 (29%) overall. It didn't matter because the Lakers won, but it was the third time in four attempts that Kobe shot less than 40%, with two of the four less than 30%. Kobe's not alone. Pau Gasol has alternated between unstoppable and sub-par over the past week.He shot less than 50% from the field against Minnesota, and was nearly as bad from the floor as Kobe was against Portland (5-14). Andrew Bynum, who has been an absolute beast in the month of March (averaging 23 and 12 this month), struggled badly against Minnesota (4-13) from the field and failed to get double digits in either points or rebounds for the first time against Dallas.
We've seen all these guys play well, but we haven't seen them all play well together. To be honest, we don't need to. If you get three of four dudes at the top of their game (as was seen in Dallas), the Lakers look unstoppable. If only two of the four (Kobe and Ramon vs. Minny, Drew and Ramon vs. Portland) play well, the Lakers are still tough to beat. That's the power of adding a fourth player for whom defenses have to prepare. But the need to increase the chances for all four of these weapons to be firing at the same time should be the primary focus of the coaching staff for the final month of the season.
Enter tonight's opponent, the Memphis Grizzlies. Memphis is (re)-incorporating a new weapon of their own, Zach Randolph, who has missed most of the season due to injury. Z-Bo is back in the fold, and the Grizzlies, who played very well without him, are a very decent team with a lot of weapons. In Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, the Grizz possess perhaps the only front line in the league that might rival the one the Lakers trot out night after night. Rudy Gay is one of the most athletic forwards in the league, and Tony Allen is one of the finest perimeter defenders in the league. In previous match-ups, the Grizz also had a point guard with the quickness to run laps around the Lakers' starter, but while Mike Conley hasn't gone anywhere, the Lakers are in a better position to deal with his primary attribute.
The Grizzlies are struggling badly right now, losers of 5 of 6. They lost yesterday to the Clippers (who needed the help to get out a slump of their own) and have yet to win at all on their four-game West Coast road trip. Tonight is their last opportunity, so you can bet the Lakers will be dealing with a motivated and capable squad. Any kind of let-up in effort for the home team could easily result in the kind of debilitating defeat the Lakers have suffered too many of this season. We'll find out soon enough whether they can avoid it.