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The Los Angeles Lakers look to make it back-to-back road wins over the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs Wednesday evening.
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The Lakers trailed for portions of Game One but took control in the second half and did not let go. They ended up winning 128-112 behind a complete team performance led surprisingly by Rui Hachimura and Austin Reaves. Anthony Davis was also flying around on the defensive end, while LeBron James coasted along in his customary Game One “feel-out game.”
The Grizzlies were forced to finish the final 5:48 without Morant, who injured his hand while crashing to the ground after colliding with a defender that drew a charge. He avoided any breaks to his hand (which was already injured) but did not return to the game. Memphis was down four when he left.
One of the most shocking developments of the game was Reaves’ ability to close out the two-seed Grizzlies on the road in a venue they went 35-6 in during the regular season. The second-year undrafted guard scored nine points from 3:29-1:31 in the fourth quarter without any misses and put the game out of reach.
Hachimura led the way with 29 points (11-14 FG, 5-6 3PT), a playoff career-high and his most in a Lakers uniform, while Reaves had 23. Memphis’ Desmond Bane called Hachimura out after the game and said that it was probably the best game of his career and he’ll wait to see how it goes for the Lakers when he isn’t playing at that level.
Davis stuffed the stat sheet with 22 points, 12 rebounds, seven blocks, and three steals. LeBron pitched in with 21 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. It was the first time since 1988 that four Lakers scored at least 20 points.
Morant only had 18 points, six assists and six turnovers as Jarred Vanderbilt did a great job guarding him. Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson Jr. had 31 points and five rebounds but was unable to power his team to victory.
Game Two is going to be interesting. The Lakers had the best record in the Western Conference post-All-Star break but can go extremely cold and also come out with shockingly low energy. On the flip side, the Grizzlies are now 20-17 since Steven Adams was lost to injury, and they could also be without their best player, Morant.
The Lakers did a great job exploiting the Grizzlies’ lack of depth, and specifically their lack of big men. With Adams and Brandon Clarke out, they were able to force Santi Aldama into a game-worst -23 in his 24 minutes of action. To make it even worse, the Lakers attempted the same amount of free throws and scored the same amount of points in the paint as the Grizzlies, meaning they have more room to grow in this series.
Game One marked the 10th time the Grizzlies let an opponent score at least 128 points and brought them to 1-9 in games where that happens. Expect them to come out with a better defensive attitude and discipline, which could force LeBron and Davis into taking on a larger offensive burden.
The Lakers need to continue to assert their depth without losing contact with their stars. Ideally, they can play LeBron and Davis for 36 or fewer minutes to save them for the deeper rounds in the playoffs, but it would not be a surprise to see them on the court for longer if the game is close. Teams that take 2-0 series leads win nearly 93% of the time in NBA playoff history, and LA would also have the advantage of returning to their home building.
Whether or not Morant plays, the Grizzlies need to continue to knock down their perimeter shots as they did in Game One and tighten up the screw on defense, especially in transition. They also cannot allow the Lakers to outscore them 22-10 in second-chance points, which is what happened in the series opener.
The strongest play for Game Two is the Lakers moneyline. Yes, they had their day shooting the ball, but they look deeper and more well-balanced than the Grizzlies. They also didn’t tap into Jackson Jr.’s lack of defensive discipline when it comes to foul trouble or their league-leading free-throw attempts per game. Watch for them to attack the rack relentlessly and go up 2-0 in the series.
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