In the 96 minutes the Lakers have played so far in the regular season, there hasn’t been much to smile about. After dropping their first two games at home — something that has never happened before in franchise history — to Pacific Division competitors, the Lakers are currently in the league’s bottom-10 in offensive efficiency, rebounds per game and field-goal percentage.
To put it simply: This hasn’t been an ideal start for the purple and gold.
There have been a ton of ugly offensive and defensive possessions, moments where one can’t help but cringe at the Lakers’ lineups and rotations, and that’s without mentioning an animated altercation between Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard over pick-and-roll coverages in just the second game of the season.
And while these red flags can all be considered concerning, the good news for the Lakers is that they have a a lot of season left to resolve their glaring issues. LeBron James himself said that the team welcomes the adversity, and will improve and learn from their mistakes.
“We’re competitors. If you don’t get mad at certain things on the floor that you feel like should have been better, then why are you here? We like that as a ballclub. We like the adversity. I like the adversity,” James said, sitting beside Davis for their shared postgame interview on Friday. “I like it even more when two men from the team come together and move on.”
“I don’t think there’s a lot of frustration. I really don’t,” James added. “There’s moments when you’re frustrated because you want to be better, you want better communication, you don’t want to turn the ball over, you don’t want to give up a layup, you don’t want to miss an assignment.”
Thankfully for the Lakers, they have an opportunity to look better at home on Sunday against an easier and younger opponent, the Memphis Grizzlies. Unlike Phoenix and Golden State, Memphis kind of plays the same way the Lakers do — with two big men, an explosive guard and small wings.
This Grizzlies team likes to attempt a ton of 3-point shots and slice through their opponent’s defense with the spacing said shots give them, and are fueled by Ja Morant’s explosive scoring abilities. Unfortunately, that means the Lakers’ defense both inside and on the perimeter has to be clicking on Sunday, something that has yet to happen for any sustained time.
Kent Bazemore will probably take on the tough assignment of defending Morant, which is vital because the Grizzlies go as far as their rising superstar takes them every night. Meanwhile, Davis, DeAndre Jordan and Howard have to make sure they win the rebound and interior scoring battle — something they haven’t done in the last two games.
But besides their defense, here are three other ways L.A. can claim their first victory of the season.
Lakers have to own the paint
There’s absolutely no excuse for the Lakers’ bigs to let Steven Adams, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Kyle Anderson have their way against them. L.A. has to step up their interior defense, because in the past two games, they were outscored by the Warriors (by 13) and Suns (by 26) inside the paint.
On the other end, the Lakers will have to take advantage of the Grizzlies’ poor rim protection and perimeter defense, which means James, Davis and Russell Westbrook should attack the basket and impose their will inside.
Another Positive from last night's Laker Game is there was another Westbrook/Davis connection.— westbrookgetsachip (@Alwaysn4evaArt) October 23, 2021
Ya love to see it. pic.twitter.com/wl6yiARCl5
Lakers bench must show up
Memphis may not be a title contender, but their roster depth is enough to put up a challenge every night. They have a bunch of smart 3-D wings like Desmond Bane, and shooters like De’Anthony Melton who can make an impact on offense.
The Lakers’ bench, specifically Malik Monk, Carmelo Anthony, Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo, simply have to outperform them.
Drifting right on a jumper in the lane after attacking & snaking the closeout off a baseline drive is a helluva way to get your first NBA points.— Laker Film Room (@LakerFilmRoom) October 23, 2021
This shot takes a lot of touch and poise and his heart had to be racing on his first NBA shot attempt. He can really play. pic.twitter.com/BeBfI9BYmm
The biggest challenge for the bench rotation is to find a way to produce offense while not getting abused on the other end of the court. It would also be great if rookie Austin Reaves (who finished last game with a team-high +17) sees more minutes as he’s arguably the team’s best point-of-attack defender and has the ability to knock down shots.
Hopefully the Lakers can depend on their role players (instead of James and Rondo) to score most of their perimeter points on Sunday.
Lakers have to play like they’re tired of losing
The Lakers need to come into the game with a sense of urgency — like they’re mad at the fact that they’re on the verge of losing three games in a row. Their habit of complaining to the referees when whistles don’t go their way also needs to stop. The Lakers’ energy, effort and body language on Sunday will be telling in terms of how they respond to their first issues of the year.
More importantly, L.A. needs to take advantage of a Memphis team that will be on the second night of a back-to-back. Whether that means exhausting the Grizzlies by forcing them to run in transition, or burning them out on the defensive end, the Lakers can beat this team in multiple ways.
Hopefully, the purple and gold do just that on Sunday and finally get themselves in the winning column, because it would be great if this team stops giving us anymore flashbacks of that 2012-2013 Lakers roster, a group that started the season similarly so far and continues to haunt us fans to this very day.
Notes and Updates
- The Lakers injury report on Sunday remains the same with Trevor Ariza (right ankle injury recovery), Wayne Ellington (left hamstring strain), Talen Horton-Tucker (right thumb injury recover) and Kendrick Nunn (right knee bone bruise) out.
- The Grizzlies will be without their 3-D wing Dillon Brooks as he continues to recover from a fractured left hand injury.
- Elsewhere around the league, the Philadelphia 76ers and Ben Simmons drama isn’t over yet, as the latter says he’s not mentally ready to play while Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver is preemptively denying reports of misconduct relating to an as-yet-unpublished story.
The Lakers and Grizzlies will tip-off earlier than usual at 6 p.m. PT on Sunday night. The game will be televised locally on Spectrum SportsNet.