In what was a reversal of fortunes from their thrilling previous meeting on Wednesday, Friday night saw the San Antonio Spurs storm back in the fourth quarter to knock off the Lakers and end their four-game winning streak.
Heading into the game, the Lakers had to adjust to life without Brandon Ingram once again, after the third-year-wing sprained his ankle on a questionable LaMarcus Aldridge close-out in the first quarter on Wednesday evening.
Ingram is set to also miss the team’s contest against Memphis while the club continues to await the results from his “precautionary MRI.”
In his absence, the Lakers have elected to slide Josh Hart into the starting group, which had been a move many fans had clamored for with Hart’s stellar play off the bench of late.
But despite coming off of canning two gigantic threes in the closing minutes in the Lakers’ win against the same Spurs’ team just a few nights ago, Hart struggled in his first rodeo back with the starters.
Hart missed all five of his 3-point attempts in Friday’s loss, and noticeably had issues containing DeMar DeRozan on the perimeter. DeRozan ended up with 36 points, nine assists, eight rebounds and only one turnover in the Spurs’ win.
Despite the loss, LeBron James continued his absolutely absurd play and production.
In his last ten games (in which the Lakers are 7-3) James has been noticeably more aggressive in not only creating for his teammates, but for himself, as he has averaged 30.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 1.3 steals on 53.7 percent shooting.
The Lakers will need that level of production to continue as they need to rebound, and refocus, quickly in the tail-end of their Southwestern back-to-back when they take on the surprising Grizzlies this evening.
As seen by their 22-60 record, Memphis had a rough season last year.
The team was once again plagued with injuries as their consistently criminally underrated point-guard, Mike Conley, played in only 12 games. Also, the team went through a mid-season shakeup when they parted ways with then head coach David Fizdale after his squad’s poor play on the floor and public disputes with star big man, Marc Gasol.
This season, the Grizzlies (15-9) have already gotten 24 games out of Conley, and have essentially returned to their “Grit n’ Grind” persona and playstyle.
On the season, Memphis is allowing only 104.2 points per 100 possessions (the fourth-best defense in the NBA) to their opponents according to Cleaning the Glass, and are playing at the league’s slowest pace.
While the duo of Conley and Gasol continues to be one of the most productive offensive/defensive tandems in the league, the team has also had a much needed infusion of youth this season in the form of their uber-impressive lottery pick, Jaren Jackson Jr.
Jackson has been one of the most dazzling rookies in the NBA a quarter into the season, with a seemingly veteran-like anticipatory timing for blocks coupled with legitimate spacing upside (33.9 percent on over two 3-point attempts per game) Jackson has helped infuse life back into the Memphis franchise.
Winning this game on the road, and off a back-to-back, will be a difficult task for the Lakers.
Due to their own offensive struggles in recent weeks, the Lakers must be weary of not allowing Memphis to slow down pace, or allowing Gasol to get open looks out of pick n’ pop possessions — which continues to be the Achilles heel of their defense.
The Lakers will have to be engaged and ready from the tip if they want to get back into the win column and head back to Los Angeles on a high-note.
The Lakers will take on the Grizzlies at 5:00 p.m. PST on Spectrum Sportsnet. All stats per Cleaning the Glass and NBA.com. You can follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexmRegla.