The Los Angeles Lakers overcame a third-quarter letdown with a strong fourth quarter surge to beat the Memphis Grizzlies — a team they very well could play in the first round of the playoffs — 117-105.
The Lakers led by 19 points at halftime and appeared set to cruise to an easy victory, but a combination of the Grizzlies ratcheting up their intensity on defense and the Lakers coming out as flat as possible to start the third quarter allowed Memphis to cut their deficit to as little as five points in fourth frame.
But ultimately, as has been the case so many times this season, LeBron James and Anthony Davis were too much to overcome down the stretch once again. James drove to the rim with force all game, getting rewarded with 12 free throws, making 11 of them en route to 32 points. Davis used a series of acrobatic finishes to overcome a first half calf injury and end the night with 27 points and 13 rebounds and 7 blocks.
The playing time breakdown between Alex Caruso and Rajon Rondo continues to baffle. Plus-minus is not a perfect stat, but it’s hard to ignore it when it continues to paint such a stark picture. Caruso was a +22 in 23 minutes, making all the little plays (including a nice tip-dunk off a free-throw miss to expand the lead in the fourth. Meanwhile, Rondo was again a minus on defense and mostly a non-threat on offense to finish a -7 in 16 minutes.
Now, Caruso obviously got more minutes than Rondo did, but eventually, Frank Vogel and the Lakers are going to have to set locker room politics aside and go with backcourt pairings not featuring Rondo even more often, whether he’s being paired with Danny Green, Avery Bradley or (especially) Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. If not for those guys, it’s at least hard to believe Quinn Cook or Troy Daniels might not at least be able to give the Lakers a different element than Rondo does.
Still, despite the second-half letdown, the Lakers still moved to 42-12, finishing the night with their fourth straight win, and third win of the season against the Grizzlies, clinching the season series with one game still to play. They will now get tomorrow off before hosting the Boston Celtics for a crucial, nationally televised showdown on Sunday.
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