Memphis guard Tony Allen often makes Kobe Bryant work hard for his points. (Alan Spearman / Associated…)
Some things to keep an eye on when the Lakers (30-18) host the Memphis Grizzlies (25-21) tonight at 7:30 at Staples Center.
1. Can the Lakers take advantage of Memphis' declining defense? The team moods among the Lakers and Grizzlies differ these days. Though they are technically 3-2 since acquiring Ramon Sessions, the offensive efficiency has jumped from its regular-season averages in points (95.88, 102.4), field-goal percentage (45.7%, 48.5%) and assists (21.69, 24.2).
Meanwhile, the Grizzlies have lost five of their last six games, including a double-digit loss to the Clippers. Memphis has allowed 107.3 points on 48.6% shooting in the last six games, a sharp decline from their regular-season average of 93.84 points on 44.6% shooting.
Two of Memphis' losses came in a double-overtime affair two weeks ago against the Lakers followed by an overtime loss to Toronto. So, of course, the opponents' scoring would increase. But that still doesn't count for the Grizzlies' decline in opponents' shooting percentage. Considering the Lakers' improvement on offense, it's possible that trend will continue.
2. Can the Lakers limit turnovers? Despite the Grizzlies' aforementioned problems on defense, they still remain proficient in two critical categories: They lead the league in steals and forced turnovers. Point guard Mike Conley averages an NBA-best 2.48 steals per game. And just last week, the Lakers' loss to the Utah Jazz mostly pointed to the team's 24 turnovers. Sessions has fared well in limiting turnovers because of the Lakers' rapid ball movement. That will prove to be the best way to ensure they don't waste possessions.
3. Kobe Bryant vs. Tony Allen. The Black Mamba may have averaged 30 points on 46.8% shooting through two games against Memphis. But according to NBAStatsCube, Bryant has shot 38% on mid-range jumpers when Allen guarded him. As the Lakers demonstrated Friday against Portland, Sessions' play-making presence helped the Lakers absorb Bryant's five-of-17 shooting night. But perhaps Sessions' arrival will help mitigate that since in the last five games, Bryant has been able to move more off the ball and score off catch-and-shoot opportunities.
4. Pau Gasol vs. Zach Randolph. Sessions' presence also helped the Lakers survive a poor performance from Gasol in which he shot only five-of-14 and allowed LaMarcus Aldridge to score 29 points on 12-of-18 shooting. In the five games since returning from a knee injury, Randolph has posted 15.4 points on 47% shooting and 7.8 rebounds, numbers that appear solid but hardly match the double-doubles he usually provided last season. Gasol needs to make sure Randolph's presence won't require the Lakers to throw double teams because that will open things up for Marc Gasol inside as well as Rudy Gay on the wing.
5. Metta World Peace vs. Rudy Gay. Fortunately for the Lakers, World Peace is more equipped in recent weeks to deny someone, such as Gay, to penetrate on the wing. World Peace has only guarded Gay for seven minutes this year, holding him scoreless on two mid-range jumpers. But World Peace's defense has improved within the last month, during which he's held LeBron James, Paul Pierce and Vince Carter under 50% shooting.
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