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Lakers vs. Grizzlies Preview: Will Anthony Davis continue starting at center?

With the Lakers back near full strength, will Frank Vogel pivot back to Anthony Davis at center moving forward?

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Boston Celtics v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Don’t look now, but the Los Angeles Lakers are winners of three of their last four games as well as a 5-3 record in their past eight. Before the season began, most fans probably wouldn’t have considered that type of small sample size record to be such a positive. That’s just the way it is, however, as this small stretch recently has felt like a breath of fresh air compared to the rest of the season that has ultimately resulted in the team having a 13-12 record heading into the middle of December.

After their 117-102 win against the Celtics on Tuesday — a win that felt like the most satisfying win of the season given the large deficit, the rivalry, and the quality of the Celtics team — the Lakers will now turn their sights towards their Thursday night matchup against the Grizzlies. The team will be traveling to Memphis as part of a two-game, back-to-back road trip with the Lakers stopping in Oklahoma City to play the Thunder before coming back to L.A.

The return of Anthony Davis starting at the five

Frank Vogel and the team made a notable pre-game adjustment prior to the Celtics game, starting Anthony Davis at center. Dwight Howard left the starting lineup (after only being in it one game) while Avery Bradley re-entered the lineup after missing two games due to a thumb injury.

The lineup proved to be extremely successful for the team, even if it got off to a rough start at the beginning of the game (a rough start that was mostly due to Jayson Tatum shooting lights out with 14 points in the first four minutes of the game). As is to be expected, AD starting at the five ended up improving the team’s spacing dramatically, leading to the offense getting to the rim all night. This resulted in the Lakers outscoring the Celtics 66-42 in the paint.

Although he has always been reluctant to start Davis at the five given the negative impact on defense it has, Frank Vogel noted that the team’s dominance in the paint was largely attributed to the starting lineup change.

“I think largely because of the lineup, we put AD at the five the whole night, we didn’t play any bigger lineups which sometimes comprises your defense but, like I said, we’re looking at things,” Vogel stated when asked about the reason for the success in the paint. “Hopefully, we can play those lineups without it comprising your defense. If you give guys like Russ, Bron and AD the open lane to attack, hopefully we can have that type of night in terms of attacking the paint. Hopefully, we can add 3-point shooting to it as well. We didn’t shoot the ball that well tonight but still had a strong performance.”

This isn’t the first time that the Lakers have started Davis at the five this season. He started at center in consecutive games against the Rockets at the end of October, with the team winning both. The idea of AD continuing to start at the five was immediately scrapped upon the news that LeBron James would be out for some time with his abdominal strain. Without LeBron’s size in the lineup, Vogel returned to the DeAndre Jordan-Davis pairing at the five and four, respectively.

As LeBron is available and coming off the team’s best game of the season featuring Davis at the starting five, are we set to see Vogel stick to this starting lineup for the time being? The Celtics do start a somewhat large frontcourt in Robert Williams III and Al Horford, but even their height and strength may pale in comparison to the likes of Steven Adams (6’1’’ and 250 pounds) and Jaren Jackson, Jr. (6’11’’ and 242 pounds). If there was ever a game for Vogel to re-insert Dwight Howard into the lineup, it’d probably be this one.

However, Vogel now has a game to re-watch with AD at the five that includes some incredible defense, an area that he always felt would be negatively impacted by this type of starting lineup. We’ll just have to see on Thursday if Vogel returns to what is comfortable to him, or if he will ride the hot lineup. As always, don’t expect any news on this front until 30 minutes before tip-off when starting lineups are released.

Notes and Updates:

  • The Memphis Grizzlies will be without a lot of firepower as Ja Morant remains out due to a left knee sprain he sustained on November 26th. He was never going to be available for this game against the Lakers, but to make matters worse, he was added to the NBA’s health and safety protocols on Monday.
  • That’s not the only injury of note for the Grizzlies, as Brandon Clarke joins Morant (along with Sam Merrill and Ziaire Willaims) as being out for their game tonight against the Dallas Mavericks. Kyle Anderson is also unlikely to play as he is listed as doubtful.
  • Kendrick Nunn and Trevor Ariza will remain out for the Lakers, however, there’s not much else to note other than that.
  • Around the league, TNT aired a game between the Nets and Mavericks prior to the game against the Lakers that saw the Nets comeback from a 17-point deficit to hand the Mavericks their third straight loss as well as their fifth straight loss at home. The Lakers head into their game on Thursday ahead of the Mavericks in the standings as their 2-8 record in their last 10 has them at the 7th seed with an 11-12 record.

The Lakers and Grizzlies game will tip-off early at 5 p.m. PT. The game will be televised on Spectrum SportsNet.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Donny on Twitter at @donny_mchenry.