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Lakers vs. Grizzlies Summer League Preview: Can L.A. still make it to the semifinals?

Los Angeles can still sneak their way into one of the top four spots if their winning percentage throughout the tournament can make a case for them.

NBA: California Classic-Golden State Warriors at Los Angeles Lakers Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The Lakers suffered their first loss in the Las Vegas Summer League tournament at the hands of the Boston Celtics on Wednesday. It was a frustrating loss to say the least. Not only did they succumb to their arch-rivals (yes, this matters even in Summer League), but nothing went their way in the second half against a team that had yet to win a single game in the tournament.

After leading by as many as 14 in the first half, the purple and gold had no answer for Boston’s 2-3 zone adjustment and their 38th pick in this year’s draft, Jordan Walsh, who had an impressive game with 25 points. The Celtics successfully exposed the Lakers’ lack of rim protection — after scoring 48 of their 95 points inside the paint, nabbing 52 rebounds (13 more than LA’s), and producing 23 points out of second-chance opportunities.

It also wasn’t a coincidence that the Lakers lost their first game of the tournament on a night when two-way contract signee and the team’s only center Colin Castleton went 3-9 from the field and had a quiet nine points. The rookie from Florida has led the Lakers in points per game so far in the LVSL tournament.

Max Christie, who has had a breakout summer stint, led the way with 24 points — along with D’Moi Hodge’s 22 and Jalen Hood-Schifino’s 15 — but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Lakers’ poor shooting performance in the third quarter, where they gave up 30 points and only tallied 17.

Now standing with a record of 2-1 in the tournament, it’s going to be interesting to see how the Lakers approach their next two games or even more, depending on how far they make it. Technically, L.A. can still qualify for the semifinals but the road just got tougher after losing to Boston.

The Lakers have to be one of the best four teams remaining (record-wise) and hope that the teams that currently have the same record as them lose their remaining games. Los Angeles can still sneak their way into one of the top four spots if their winning percentage throughout the tournament can make a case for them.

All that said, the Lakers still have to play at least two more games, and as the Summer League progresses, here are two storylines worth following:

Is it time to shut down Christie and give way to the rest?

Christie, who vowed to showcase his development in this year’s summer games, has indeed made a case for why he deserves to be considered in the rotation for the parent team next season.

In his last five games (including the California Classics tournament), the Michigan State prospect has averaged 19.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists on 49.2% shooting from the field (29-59) and 55.0% from the three-point line (11-20). I talked about his significant progress in the past year in my most recent preview, as the 20-year-old continues to be the best part about this year’s Lakers summer games.

Now, the question moving forward is whether or not the purple and gold have seen enough from Christie that they decide to sit him out for the rest of the tournament. Maybe this could be one way to give the rest of the team, specifically those vying for a contract, a chance to showcase their value.

What the Lakers decide to do with Christie in the following games will be telling whether or not they’re dead serious about bringing home the Summer League championship trophy this year.

Will Cole Swider keep his two-way contract spot?

In my recent preview, I also wrote that one factor to look out for is the two-way contract spots that the Lakers have this year. Currently, Cole Swider, Colin Castleton, and D’Moi Hodge occupy those three slots. But the question is, will it remain that way? Castleton has been arguably the second most-impressive player this summer, while Hodge showed in the last couple of games why he was given that two-way contract slot.

What’s worth looking out for is Swider’s slot — and whether or not the Lakers renounce that and give the offer to someone else like Alex Fudge. Swider, the sophomore who spent most of his time in the G-League last season, has had an up-and-down summer stint so far, and his status with the team is worth following moving forward. Will the team continue to invest in the sharpshooter? Or let him spread his wings somewhere else?

The next two games (or more) will be the last opportunity for these young bloods to showcase their value as most of them continue to fight for a chance to play in the league.

Notes and Updates:

  • Up next on the Lakers’ Last Vegas itinerary is a matchup against the Grizzlies’ summer team, who are currently 1-2 in the tournament. Some notable names to watch out for on the other side are Kenneth Lofton Jr., David Roddy, and Jake LaRavia.
  • For news about the Lakers’ parent team, LeBron James all but confirmed on Wednesday’s ESPY Awards that he isn’t retiring and will suit up for the Lakers next season. Meanwhile, Darvin Ham recently made an appearance on Marc Stein and Chris Haynes’ podcast entitled “#ThisLeague Uncut” where he talked about a vast array of topics including the Lakers’ current roster coming off free agency, his experience coaching the team last season, and many more. It’s an episode worth tapping in on.

The Lakers and Grizzlies will tip off at 8:00 p.m. PT. The game will be exclusively televised on ESPN.

You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani

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