7:30 p.m PDT
With just seven games left to play, the Lakers sit alone as the Western Conference's 8th seed. The 9th place Utah Jazz lost on Wednesday night in Denver Nuggets rout, ending their five game winning streak that has endangered LA's playoff hopes. As the Lake Show scoreboard watches a likely Jazz home win against the lowly New Orleans Hornets, Kobe, Dwight, Pau and company face yet another must-win game.
And they'll almost definitely have to do so without point guard Steve Nash. The 39 year-old has been sidelined for the past week with hip and hamstring injuries and is considered doubtful for tonight's contest. As with the previous two games, Steve Blake will get the lion's share of minutes in his absence. Nash's on-ball wizardry and outside sharpshooting will surely be missed by the Lakers in this particular match-up, seeing as how the Memphis interior defense is one of the best in the league. Marc Gasol leads the way in a Defensive Player of the Year-caliber season, with Zach Randolph, Ed Davis and Darrell Arthur providing extra muscle that can perform the rare feat of handling Pau and Dwight in the paint.
Memphis (51-24) is in the midst of a franchise-best season, already setting a team record for wins. They've gone 22-8 since trading small forward Rudy Gay to the Toronto Raptors in late January, including a current 4 game winning streak with victories over San Antonio and Houston. The Grizz haven't allowed more the 94 points against any opponent in any of their past four W's, which behooves a squad that ranks only 17th in offensive efficiency (according to basketball-reference.com).
Meanwhile, the Lakers are riding a very modest two-game winning streak, scoring perhaps a death blow to the Dallas Mavericks' playoff hopes in Tuesday's win at STAPLES Center. Of most concern is the minutes being put on LA's All-Stars, including Kobe Bryant, who is averaging a staggering 41 minutes a contest in his last 6 games. Not to be outdone, Dwight Howard has put in over 37 minutes a night in the past 6 bouts, contributing as much on the defensive side of the ball as Kobe is on the offensive end.
The Grizzlies have already won the season series, taking the first two contests, and will look to complete the season sweep tonight. The Lakers must control point guard Mike Conely, who's gone off for two identical 19 point, 6 assist games on 17 for 28 shooting, as well as attempt to wrangle a Memphis bench that went off for 43 points in late January.
With the Jazz staring at two more games with Minnesota and the Lakers looking at future contests with the Spurs, Rockets, Warriors, Clippers and at the Rose Garden
of Death against the Trailblazers, LA has to pick up every win possible, even against tough competition.
No exception tonight. No exceptions, period.