Showtime: 7:30pm PT
Plot: Both the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Lakers have stumbled out of the gate, the former with a 3-5 record and the latter at 4-6. The primary difference here? Coming off their first-ever Western Conference Finals appearance, the Grizz were expected to be a dark horse title contender this season. The Lakers? Let's just say that such lofty heights weren't projected.
To be clear: it's not so much their record, as a 3-5 win-loss isn't any indication of future results with a season still so young. The disappointment undoubtedly extends from just how leaky Memphis defense has typically looked.
Helmed by Tony Allen, Quincy Pondexter, Zach Randolph, Mike Conley, Jr. and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies have finished in the league's top-10 of defensive efficiency the previous three seasons. "Grit and Grind" has been the motto in Memphis, and if ever there was an appropriate organizational marketing tag line, it would be for these Grizz. This squad has been one of the toughest defensively in the league, but also one of the slowest. Anchored by two dominant post players in Gasol and Z-Bo, as well as able half-court penetrators like Conley, Allen and Pondexter, the Grizzlies are one of the few teams that can literally beat a victory out of their opponents.
The problem? This year, they don't yet appear as that team. Thus far, they've ranked as the league's 25th worst defensively efficient squad to go along with one of it's slowest, least efficient offenses. Their starting front court pairing, Randolph and Gasol, hasn't quite hit their stride (with Z-Bo throwing up a relatively pedestrian 12/10 line), which has been a big detriment to Memphis's attack as well as scoring prevention strategy. Overall, they look like a tired, slower version of last year's team, part of which might be an adjustment to new head coach Dave Joerger after several years with Lionel Hollins at the helm.
In other words? If there was ever going to be a time for these upstart Lakers to nab a victory over one of the West's best, it would be tonight.
The plan of attack for LA tonight is going to be the same as every night: try to outhustle their opponents, beat them on the boards and hit as many threes as the good lord above Saint Mamba will allow. The Lakers have been, to say the least, up and down defensively, but may have found a good starting combination in Jordan Hill and Pau Gasol. The results were mixed over a small sample size this week, as the duo completely stunted the Hornets forward Anthony Davis on Tuesday, but were destroyed by Denver's Timofey Mozgov and Kenneth Faried on Wednesday. They'll be up against a tough task with the Gasol Bowl coming to town, so this will be a great test to see just how well they'll be able to defend two slower, more post-oriented opponents.
Steve Nash and of course Kobe Bryant will be out tonight, a disappointment to all fans that interpreted the Mamba's #bearhunt tweets as a return against the Grizzlies. It'll be up to the rest of the Lakers--Steve Blake, Jordan Hill, Pau Gasol and Jordan Farmar in particular--to contain a Memphis offense and defense that could explode at any moment. Hopefully tonight isn't when it all begins to clicks for the Grizz.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino