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Lakers vs. Grizzlies Game 6 Preview: Can the Lakers finally close this series?

The Lakers need to treat this one like it’s Game 7

NBA: Playoffs-Los Angeles Lakers at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

The Lakers failed to close out the Memphis Grizzlies last night and now return back home to Los Angeles with a 3-2 series lead as well as more pressure on their side. Much can be said about how Game 5 was just really a matter of a more desperate Grizzlies team refusing to call their season quits at home, but it’s also fair to say that the Lakers shot themselves in the foot like they have countless times this season.

After a horrible offensive performance in Game 4, Anthony Davis bounced back in Game 5 by tallying 31 points and 19 rebounds but he barely received any help. It was LeBron James’ worst game of the series (he even admitted that he played like crap) and arguably the most frustrating coaching performance by Darvin Ham, who made a couple of questionable decisions that cost the game.

Let’s start with Ham. The most disappointing takeaway from Game 5 was when the first-year head coach decided to substitute AD from the game when the Lakers were within one with 3:52 minutes left in the third quarter. After that moment, the Grizzlies — who have thrived in the non-AD minutes all series — instantly scored seven points in three easy baskets that led to a 28-2 run. Just look how the game turned around once AD took a breather in the third quarter:

On top of Ham pulling Davis out at the wrong time, another questionable decision is his willingness to keep playing Malik Beasley and Troy Brown Jr., who have been struggling offensively all series. It’s not a coincidence that Both Brown and Beasley were part of the lineups that recorded the worst plus-minus (Beasley was a -23 while Brown was a -26) in Game 5. It also didn’t help that Ham didn’t call a single timeout when the Grizzlies went on a 28-2 run that won them the game.

That said, Game 5 obviously wasn’t all on Ham. It’s also as simple as the Lakers shooting 25.6% from the three-point line compared to the Grizzlies’ 35%, Desmond Bane continuing to torch the Lakers’ defense, and the Lakers once again — for the fifth game in a row — faltering when their small-ball lineups were utilized. These mistakes can’t happen again and if the Lakers want to finally close out the series on Friday, here are two other things to look out for:

Will we still see the small-ball lineup in this game?

In game 5, Ham decided to play Gabriel for eight minutes (his highest of the series) and held up better compared to when James or Rui Hachimura takes over the 5 when Davis sits. Gabriel may not replicate Davis’ elite defense (no one can, really) but at the very least, he offers rim protection and much-needed interior presence that the Lakers desperately need when Davis sits. It’s one way to prevent the Grizzlies from going on a run like they have all series.

However, utilizing Gabriel in Game 6 might not ultimately matter, as AD said he’s ready to play as much as he can on Friday. It would be a surprise if Ham indeed decides to play Davis for 48 minutes, but it’s going to be interesting to see how he handles the Lakers’ biggest weakness in a must-win game. This will be one of the most significant factors that will determine the result of Game 6.

Can the Lakers treat this game like it’s Game 7?

In fairness to the Purple and Gold, they attacked Game 5 far differently compared to Game 2, where they played as if they already knew they did their job by stealing one on the road. It’s just unfortunate that James had his worst game of the series, along with the Lakers’ role players not making their shots and questionable rotation decisions by Ham that affected the game’s result.

Luckily for Los Angeles, they earned themselves some margin for error, which was why they’re still in the driver’s seat to close the series at home on Friday. Yes, they have two chances of winning the series, but it’s vital that the Lakers treat this game like it’s their last shot, because going on the road again and playing in front of a hostile Grizzlies Game 7 crowd isn’t ideal at all.

Here is where the experience of playing all those must-win games at the tail end of the regular season comes in. This is also where Davis and James need to take over and finally close the final chapter of this book. Where the Lakers crowd is expected to once again will their team to victory with every roar. And finally, where everything they’ve worked for up until this moment pays dividends.

Let’s see if the Lakers can finally advance to the second round of the Playoffs on Friday. Buckle up because this is going to be one hell of a game — regardless of the result.

Notes and updates

  • Five games into this gritty and hard-fought series, one key factor to take note of is that the team that has won the first quarter has won each game. It’s important that the Lakers start off game 6 in the best way possible. It’s also worth noting that since the Grizzlies’ 35-9 start in the first quarter of Game 3, they’ve now outscored the Lakers (325-289).
  • For the Lakers injury report, the team listed Anthony Davis (right foot stress injury), LeBron James (right foot soreness) and Dennis Schroder (right Achilles soreness) as probable.
  • The Grizzlies list Luke Kennard (LT shoulder soreness) as questionable while Steven Adams (RT knee PCL sprain), Brandon Clarke (LT Achilles tear) and Jake LaRavia as out.
  • For news around the league, there’s not much basketball action today as the NBA makes way for the NFL Draft. But if you want to relive one of the biggest upsets not just in this year’s Playoffs but in NBA history, read more about the Milwaukee Bucks’ epic collapse to the Miami Heat on our main site today.

The Lakers and Grizzlies will tip off at 7:30 p.m. PT. on Friday. The game will be televised on ESPN nationally and locally on Spectrum SportsNet.

You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani.

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