Extra Pass: Grizzlies going for third straight win vs. Lakers

Published December 29, 2021, 5:00 PMMiguel Flores

Fresh off back-to-back wins, the Grizzlies are all set to battle LeBron James and the Lakers at home.

It feels like the opening week classic between the Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies happened last season. A lot has happened with both teams, let alone the entire league, since the Lakers narrowly escaped Ja Morant and the Grizzlies in late October.

When they meet tomorrow at 9:00 AM (live on NBA League Pass), both teams will look a lot different from how we saw them in their first matchup. For one, the Grizzlies already tied the season series with a convincing win at home in early December.

The more pressing difference is the Grizzlies’ recent hot streak. With and without Morant, they have looked impressive all season and they currently hold a 21-14 record, good for fourth in the West. They even won more games without Morant in the lineup, going 11-4 in that stretch.

The level of team play within Memphis has been outstanding, with someone consistently taking the reins to steer the team to a win. On most nights, it’s Jaren Jackson Jr. doing the heavy lifting on both ends of the floor. The Michigan State standout is having the best year of his career, right after signing a massive extension, averaging 16.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. 

On some nights, it’s Desmond Bane that breaks out of the darkness that molded him. Bane – the last pick of the 2020 Draft first round – has stepped into a starting role this season and has blown away all expectations, upping his scoring from 9.2 points per game last season to 17.2 this season.

All good Memphis teams have a little Grit ‘N Grind in them, and guys like Steven Adams, De’Anthony Melton, and Dillon Brooks are the dirt underneath the Grizzlies’ claws. Memphis has been quite malleable defensively this season, while retooling their shot selection with more 3-pointers. In his third season as head coach, Taylor Jenkins seems to have found the core of the next great Memphis team.

Still, Ja Morant remains the best problem to have for the Grizzlies. Any team that seeks to make a deep postseason run needs a shot-making star and Morant is the only Grizzly that fits that profile. At some point, this team will have to figure out how all their pieces fit around Morant. They’ve been below .500 with their high-flying floor general in the lineup. That doesn’t mean they have a problem, just a symptom of one.

Speaking of symptoms, the Lakers have shown more than their fair share of illnesses this year – both literally and metaphorically. All season, they’ve had to deal with injuries to key players, most recently an MCL sprain to Anthony Davis. Even with Davis in the lineup, the Lakers have barely been the threat that experts predicted.

LeBron James, per usual, has been having a great season – if you don’t count him always being listed as questionable before games. Fresh off becoming the King of Christmas, LeBron has been averaging 30.3 points on 54 percent shooting over the last two weeks.

But it’s been tough for the Lakers to pull consistent contributions from their supporting cast. Russell Westbrook is again having a great box-score season and a divisive-at-best on-court season. Without Davis, Carmelo Anthony has been the Lakers’ third best option. 

It’s been five straight horrendous losses for the Lakers, plummeting their record to 16-18. If any other team had this record, they would barely be on anyone’s radar. But these are the Los Angeles Lakers – the most famous basketball team with the most famous player in the world. They’re also the undoubted team of Pinoys.

There’s never a lack of drama for the Lakers. So we keep watching – waiting for them to figure things out or crash to another embarrassing loss.

The Grizzlies should be favored tomorrow as they’re also coming off a big road win against the Phoenix Suns, the league’s second-best team currently. LeBron, and the other geriatric Lakers, should also be listed as questionable since they will be playing the second night of a back-to-back. This game could quickly turn into an end-to-end drubbing by the Grizzlies, unless the Lakers can impose their preferred pace.

If this game isn't up to your speed, the Utah Jazz will be taking on the Portland Trail Blazers live on NBA TV Philippines via Smart GigaPlay app or Cignal TV at 11:00 AM. The Jazz are sneakily the third-best team in the West this season, while the Blazers are slowly getting into groove as Damian Lillard finds his form.