The Lakers fought hard sans-LeBron and D’Angelo Russell on Tuesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies, but it wasn’t enough. After a slow first half, Ja Morant caught fire in third, scoring 28 points and ending the night with 39 total to hand L.A. their first loss in four games, ultimately falling 121-109.
The Lakers got some good performances from their role players in the defeat. Lonnie Walker IV had 21 points, hitting a team-high five threes in his return to real rotation minutes, and Austin Reaves continues to prove he’s not just a try-hard player, scoring 17 points off the bench.
Anthony Davis is now the face of the team and after a slow start, he did produce well in the second half. He ended the night with another double-double with 28 points and 19 rebounds, but more was needed with their other superstar — and their starting point guard in Russell — out.
In the first half, the non-LeBron Lakers looked good. They stayed relatively close to Memphis, won the rebounding battle 36-25, and had double-digit performances from Austin and Lonnie. 3-point shooting was still 1-7 in the first, but they recovered nicely, ending the opening half shooting 35.3% from deep.
Even with the respectable first-half performance the Lakers struggled to contain the Memphis core. Jaren Jackson Jr. was efficient from the field shooting 7-14 and ending the night with 16 points. In the closing quarter with the game hanging in the balance, he had back-to-back highlight plays, first getting a putback dunk over Anthony Davis then having and equally impressive block on AD.
Ja Morant, a player who is never actually contained, also got going.
And he didn’t just get going. He had a career-high 28 points in the third. Taking this game from a back-and-forth affair and giving Memphis a nine-point advantage entering the last 12 minutes.
Ja scored 28 PTS in Q3 on TNT— NBA (@NBA) March 1, 2023
His career-high for points in a quarter pic.twitter.com/YlMDKVXbj7
In the final quarter, Memphis continued to apply pressure and had so much momentum going their way that despite Walker doing his best to bring the Lakers back — getting the deficit to as few as four points — the team ultimately just couldn’t string together enough scores to grab the upset win.
The role players stepped up tonight, but AD can’t just be good; he has to be great. LeBron’s production is irreplaceable, but everyone has to do more; tonight, Davis wasn’t enough. The Lakers’ destiny is now directly correlated with AD’s play. Hopefully, both look improved tomorrow when they face the Oklahoma City Thunder.
You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.