The Los Angeles Lakers are in the midst of their best stretch of the season thus far, winning five of their last six games. They currently have a season-long four-game winning streak as well, featuring victories against the Portland Trail Blazers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Sacramento Kings, and most recently, the Atlanta Hawks.
These last few games haven’t come against the cream of the NBA’s crop, per se, but after watching the Lakers drop countless games to very bad teams in the 2021 portion of this season, we are allowed to celebrate any winning streak when it occurs.
However, they now run into one of the best teams in the Western Conference — as well as one of the hottest teams in the entire NBA, winners of eight games in a row — when they host the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday evening.
Here’s our preview of a January matchup that could end up actually being really important later in the season.
We’re talking playoff seeding tie-breakers, folks
If you’re feeling like the Lakers and the Grizzlies have played against each other a lot already this season, that feeling is valid, because they’ve already played three times. Sunday will also be the third time the teams have faced each other in just a month’s time, with Grizzlies winners of two in a row. The most recent contest came on Dec. 29, with that game slipping out of the Lakers’ grasp as they lost 104-99 after holding a 14-point lead in the third quarter.
So the Lakers will now hope to win Sunday, concluding the season series by evening it up at 2-2.
The Lakers come into this one as the current sixth seed in the West, with 5.5 games separating them and the Grizzlies. Not only would a win immediately trim that to 4.5 and help the Lakers leap over the Mavericks for the 5th-seed, but it would also eliminate the chance of the Grizzlies holding a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Lakers if the two teams were to finish the season with the same record.
After that tiebreaker, it would go to the two teams’ records against all other Western Conference teams. Sadly, the Lakers have plenty of ground to make up in this regard, with a current 12-13 conference record compared to the Grizzlies’ 20-9. Again, Sunday’s game could also improve this, but that gap would still be pretty wide to make up with just about half the season left.
But even if getting the season series to 2-2 doesn’t end up mattering for the Lakers down the road, it behooves them to take advantage of the Grizzlies on Sunday. Although they come in winners of their last eight games, they will be on the second day of a Los Angeles back-to-back after playing the Clippers on Saturday. And yes, they’ll be spending Saturday night in Los Angeles. So the Lakers — who had Saturday off — should have advantages on a few fronts here over a young team that may enjoy the nightlife options SoCal has to offer.
In addition, the Grizzlies could be shorthanded Sunday after losing a multitude of guys before the Clippers game. Steven Adams and head coach Taylor Jenkins were two of the people missing for Memphis, with both entering health and safety protocols and most likely being out for Sunday’s game. Ja Morant — who came in doubtful due to left thigh soreness — also sat out on Saturday.
Four other Grizzlies players also missed the game due to injury, including Kyle Anderson. To make matters worse for Memphis, Dillon Brooks had to leave very early against the Clippers due to a left foot injury.
Dillon Brooks is down and holding his lower leg and pointing to his left ankle. He was helped off the court without putting pressure on his ankle. He stepped on Brandon Boston’s foot. Didn’t look good.— Damichael Cole (@DamichaelC) January 8, 2022
All of that didn’t really stop the rest of Memphis from performing well, though, as they beat the Clippers, 123-108, despite all the missing players.
First 2 and a half minutes: 13-4 Clippers.— Joseph Raya-Ward (@JosephRayaWard) January 8, 2022
Since: 114-82 Memphis.
Above all else, even with all of the possible Grizzlies’ absences, a win on Sunday could serve as an affirmation to the Lakers (and us fans) that they can beat a good team with their renewed commitment to small ball. The improved odds of playoff seeding would just serve as icing on the cake.
Notes and Updates
- Below is the Grizzlies’ injury report for their Saturday game vs. the Clippers. You could probably pencil in Dillon Brooks with Steven Adams as players who will be out, but we’ll have to see on Sunday how Ja Morant and the rest of the team are feeling.
- No new news on the Lakers’ injury front, as Anthony Davis (MCL sprain) and Kendrick Nunn (right knee bone bruise) will remain out with their respective injuries, although it sounds like Nunn is getting closer.
- LeBron James is once again probable with the same rectus abdominis strain he’s been listed with for months.
- Two-way players Jay Huff and Mason Jones are on assignment with the South Bay Lakers.
- Around the league, EVERYONE’S GOING STREAKING (Will Ferrell voice). The Grizzlies’ eight-game winning streak isn’t even the best in the league, as DeMar DeRozan and the Chicago Bulls continue to roll with a nine-game streak of their own. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia 76ers have a six-game winning streak, with the fifth-seeded Dallas Mavericks winners of their last five as they try to stay in front of the Lakers in the Western Conference standings.
The Lakers and Grizzlies will tip-off at 6:30 p.m. PT, with the game being televised locally on Spectrum SportsNet.