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Lakers vs. Grizzlies Preview: L.A. looks to avoid frontcourt mauling

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The Lakers could clinch their season series against the Grizzlies with a win on Sunday, but a victory won’t be easy given L.A.’s depleted frontcourt depth.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers may have won against the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday, but their 1-3 road trip prior to that clearly shows that the Lakers can’t overlook anyone on their schedule right now, not even the Memphis Grizzlies, who started off promising before dropping their last five games, and seven of their last eight.

Still, the Lakers should be careful about poking the dangerous bear that is a lethargic Sunday start. L.A. nightlife is undefeated and could also affect Memphis — who has been in town since Friday night, potentially a death blow on a roster with Joakim Noah and Chandler Parsons — but the Lakers have shown a trend of scoring worse on Sundays than any other day of the week.

That trend — combined with the fact that the Lakers as a team are still all battling an illness that’s spread around the locker room while starting center JaVale McGee misses time in the aftermath of a bout with pneumonia — could bode ill for L.A.

If McGee misses the game again or isn’t 100 percent, the Lakers will be left hoping for another transcendent performance from Ivica Zubac, who played his best game of the season on Friday. Barring that, the Lakers will at least need a little more from Tyson Chandler, who looked stiff in Friday’s win and was sitting on the same type of raised seat LeBron James uses for care on his back during the game.

But if Zubac isn’t able to keep rolling and Chandler still can’t move well, then Memphis’ frontcourt of Jaren Jackson Jr. and Marc Gasol might tear through them as easily as a couple of actual Grizzlies through a campsite that forgot to hang their food from a tree.

The Grizzlies have lived in the paint this season, a point emphasized by the fact that they rank third in the entire NBA in paint touches per game (27.1) despite playing at literally the slowest pace in the league (95.88 possessions per game).

That speed is counter to how the Lakers — who rank third in the NBA in pace with 103.98 possessions per game — like to play, making this a clash of styles, which is something that can honestly be said about almost any team the perpetually grit-and-grind Grizzlies play.

But if the Lakers are missing McGee again (which seems likely), they’ll need their stopgap options to hold down the glass, and their guards and wings will have to do an even better job of denying entry passes and helping on big men, the latter of which they can’t do quite as freely as one might think because the Grizzlies are actually a middle-of-the pack 3-point shooting team (35.2 percent from behind the arc).

If the Lakers can’t secure boards and get out and run Memphis off the floor, though, they may end up with their fourth loss in their last six games, an untenable outcome in an ever-competitive Western Conference in which they’ll be jockeying for position with the Grizzlies all year.

The Lakers tip against Memphis at Staples Center on Sunday night at 6:30 p.m. PST, and you can watch the game locally on Spectrum Sportsnet.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. All stats per NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.