Some of the flaws in the Lakers’ small-ball lineup were exposed in their embarrassing loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday. L.A’s defense allowed the Grizzlies (who are built around height and youth) to score 62 points on the paint and shoot 54% from the field, even without starting center Steven Adams.
Memphis’ shot chart pretty much sums up how successfully they attacked the Lakers’ small-ball units last Sunday.
Basically, L.A.’s interior defense was nowhere in sight. They were repeatedly burned for trapping Ja Morant and not closing out quickly enough on the perimeter.
When the Lakers committed to sliding LeBron James to the 5, they sacrificed defensive size and hoped having enough shooting on the floor would make up for it, because (in theory) that shift should open up the lane for Russell Westbrook and Talen Horton-Tucker while also creating quality 3-point looks for their shooters in Malik Monk, Carmelo Anthony, and even Avery Bradley.
But the Grizzlies’ 11th-ranked defense shut this strategy down entirely last Sunday. Their goal was to let James beat them instead of his role players, and to their credit, they succeeded. The starters outside of James combined to go an abysmal 8-39 from the field, while James himself went 14-19.
Westbrook, who the Lakers badly needed scoring from, made just 2-12 of his shots. Horton-Tucker was in foul trouble early and couldn’t find his groove while Monk, Bradley, Anthony and Stanley Johnson all looked lost and succumbed to the intimidating Grizzlies defense throughout the game.
But if there’s one thing Sunday’s game proved, it’s that the Lakers’ small ball lineup is still far from perfect. And if the purple and gold want to improve from their mistakes moving forward, each role player needs to hold up the end of their bargain and commit to their roles consistently.
This means that Westbrook (who now attempts 67.8 percent of his shots inside the paint) needs to provide more scoring. Monk, Anthony, Bradley and even Ellington need to stay afloat on defense while producing at a high enough rate every game by coming off screens, getting handoffs and maybe even driving to the basket. James, meanwhile — who is now scoring 32.9 points per 36 minutes, and ranks second in the league in scoring with 28.9 points per game — must keep up his current level of production.
As for the defense, well nobody besides Anthony Davis can fully fill the team’s current interior void. However, it will be interesting to see if Frank Vogel eventually decides to diversify the team’s coverages by incorporating more zone and switching actions to junk things up and keep opponent’s guessing.
How the Lakers continue all these processes in their final game against the Sacramento Kings this season will be telling in terms of their commitment to their small-ball lineup (which they are currently 5-1 with).
Will they repeat the same mistakes by allowing DeAaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, Davion Mitchell and Buddy Hield to get what they want on the paint and perimeter? Or will the Lakers be better, and learn from Sunday night? We’ll find out in an important game (at least based on the standings) on Wednesday.
The Lakers (21-20) are currently in seventh place in the Western Conference standings, and are just one loss away from possibly being the ninth seed. They need to approach tomorrow’s game against the Kings (12th in the West, 16-27 overall) with a sense of urgency to avoid slipping further while waiting for Davis to return.
Notes and updates
- The Kings are currently on a five-game losing streak, and are experiencing another season from hell. They’ll surely be hungry for a victory against L.A. on Wednesday.
- As expected, Anthony Davis (MCL sprain) and Kendrick Nunn (bone bruise) will be out tomorrow. Nunn, who now has missed half of the season, participated in individual work on Tuesday but according to Vogel, there is no timetable yet for his return.
- LeBron James (rectus abdominis strain) is listed as probable. Jay Huff and Mason Jones (two-way contracts) will be with the South Bay Lakers.
- The good news for the Lakers is that assistant coaches Dave Fizdale and Mike Penberthy have now cleared health and safety Protocols. Their adjustments and contributions on the offensive end were sorely missed the past few games.
While the defense picked up after Frank came back, the in-game implementation of offensive adjustments really declined with Fizdale's absence:— Cooper Halpern (@CooperHalpern) January 11, 2022
Russ under Fizdale: 21-10-8 on 46.2% shooting
Russ since Vogel's return: 15-9-8 on 39% shooting https://t.co/DuYZSltRhx
- The Kings’ Damian Jones (health and safety protocols) will miss tomorrow’s game. Tristan Thompson (quadriceps) and Richaun Holmes (returning from the health and safety protocols) are also listed as questionable.
The Lakers and Kings will tip-off at 7 p.m. PT. The game will be televised locally on Spectrum SportsNet.
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