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The Los Angeles Lakers return to their home floor for Game Three against the Memphis Grizzlies having stolen home court despite losing Game Two.
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The Grizzlies were able to win Game Two 103-93 despite missing All-Star Ja Morant, who aggravated a hand injury crashing to the floor during Game One. Six players scored double figures and the defense, which held opponents to the lowest average field goal percentage during the regular season, rose and shone against a Lakers team that scored at will in the first meeting.
Not only could LA not get their shots to fall, but their star players all turned in troubling performances. Anthony Davis was a beast on offense but looked totally out of sorts on offense, D’Angelo Russell couldn’t find any rhythm and voiced his frustrations after the game, and LeBron James, despite being the only effective scorer, played such lazy defense that he finished with the worst plus/minus on the Lakers.
There are reasons for both teams to be optimistic moving forward. LA, no matter how frustrating it may be, has a history of playing with low energy and losing games they have no business losing. On the other side, Memphis proved once again that it can win games without Morant, largely because they employ the highest-paid backup point guard in the league, Tyus Jones.
Third-year pro Xavier Tillman led the Grizz with 22 points, 13 rebounds, and a +10 plus/minus. He might not have even played in this game if Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke were healthy, yet he was the driving force in the victory. All of the other starters scored at least 10, including newly-crowned Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson Jr., who had 18 points, nine rebounds, and three blocks.
LeBron finished the game with 28 points on 12-23 shooting and 12 rebounds but only three assists. Rui Hachimura (20 points, five rebounds) was excellent off the bench for the second time in two games this series. Davis, Russell, Austin Reaves, and Dennis Schroder combined for just 37 points between them.
The Lakers will have the benefit of playing at home in Game Three where they had a winning record. But more importantly, the Grizzlies, who went 35-6 at home, only managed a road record of 16-25. Advantage: Lakers.
The Grizzlies have made it clear that they aren’t backing down from LA’s stars. They regularly doubled Davis in the post and forced him to become a playmaker but played single, tight coverage on LeBron and tried to force him to drive into the waiting Jackson Jr. That game plan comes with high risk and a high reward because it leaves the Lakers’ shooters open, but they are not the most reliable group from the outside.
Memphis will probably not win another game in which Tillman is the leading scorer, but they have serious scorers in Desmond Bane and Jackson Jr. Even if Morant doesn’t play, they are certainly still right in the mix to take Game Three.
The Lakers will win this game if they can get a better offensive performance from Davis or better contributions from their role players. They don’t even necessarily need both, they just need to support LeBron enough to the point that his lackadaisical defense can be overlooked. Expect them to draw up lots of plays for Davis in the first quarter to get him going and also force the Grizzlies’ defense to become more compact and create space on the perimeter.
The Grizzlies will win this game if they keep the same defensive intensity and are able to go on a couple of runs. They are solid through and through, but they lost their knockout punch when they lost Morant and will have to have streaks of three or four-made threes if the Lakers can find their scoring touch. That feeds into Bane and Jackson Jr. having big nights, especially since role players tend to struggle on the road.
As poor as the Lakers were in Game Two, they were utterly excellent in Game One and have been one of the best teams in the NBA since the All-Star break. It’s about time for Davis or Russell to have an enormous offensive game, and the bench players have a great chance to build their spirit in front of the home crowd. The Lakers' spread is the pick, and the moneyline would be a nice inclusion in a parlay.
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