Grizzlies guard O.J. Mayo goes for a reverse layup against Pau Gasol and… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
Here are four reasons the Grizzlies would give the Lakers a competitive playoff series.
1. Defense. Memphis suddenly exposed what Metta World Peace called the "glitch in the Matrix" in the Lakers' 102-96 loss Sunday to the Grizzlies. He didn't explain what that was, but the Lakers' recently improved offensive efficiency since Ramon Sessions' arrival came crashing down. Everyone outside Andrew Bynum shot less than 50% from the field. Memphis forced 16 turnovers. Tony Allen made Kobe Bryant work hard for 18 points. Zach Randoloph slowed down Pau Gasol at the top of the key during a four-of-15 shooting night. You get the idea.
The Grizzlies might have suffered some lapses recently on defense, but they still lead the league in steals (10) and forced turnovers (17.6) each game. Considering the Lakers' issues on transition defense, Coach Mike Brown remains most worried about his team's ability to "value each possession" should they play Memphis in the postseason.
2. Interior presence. Opponents fear the Lakers because they have this scorer named Kobe Bryant. You might have heard of him. Teams also fear the Lakers because of 7-footers Bynum and Gasol. But Memphis remains more equipped in minimizing the damage done by Bynum and Gasol. The Grizzlies outscored the Lakers, 52-36, in the paint, thanks to Randolph, Marreese Speights and Marc Gasol attacking the paint with quick passes and balanced spacing. They also were aggressive on the offensive boards, collecting 14 rebounds and converting them into 21 second-chance points.
3. Good supporting cast. World Peace has elevated his defense, but Rudy Gay managed to score 18 points against him on eight-of-14 shooting because teammates constantly set backscreens for him. O.J. Mayo dropped 16 points simply because Steve Blake couldn't keep pace with him. And even if the Lakers upgraded at point guard with Sessions, Mike Conley still organized Memphis' offense, finishing with 13 points and eight assists.
The Lakers boast a solid starting lineup, but their bench quickly drops off. If the reserves only combine for nine points as they did Sunday, there's very little chance they could stay in contention with Memphis.
4. Confidence. Pau Gasol acknowledged to me last season he was most worried about playing Memphis in the first round of the playoffs because the Grizzlies' skill set and familiarity with the Lakers' system would've exposed their lack of focus even more than New Orleans did. He has good reason to think so. The Grizzlies upset the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs in the first round last season. Then they extended their conference semifinals series with the Oklahoma City Thunder to seven games. With how inconsistent the Lakers have shown in their development this season, Memphis surely sees some vulnerability.
Verdict: The Lakers still boast superior talent, but securing the series victory won't be easy. They'd need seven games to pull it off.
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