Extra Pass: LeBron-less Lakers pay Grizzlies a visit

Published February 28, 2023, 3:00 PMMiguel Flores

The Lakers will have Ja Morant and company on the road without LeBron James.

What's up with the Lakers?

LeBron James is leaving what he described as the most important stretch of regular season games in his career up to his teammates. He doesn’t really have a choice as he aggravated his left injury which is now causing problems with his ankle. James is going to miss several games and the Lakers will need to find a way to win.

Los Angeles currently holds a 29-32 record, one game behind the New Orleans Pelicans for a spot in the play-in tournament and two games behind the Dallas Mavericks for the sixth seed and an outright postseason berth. The good news is the Lakers have one of the easiest remaining schedules, according to ESPN. The bad news is they still have to face some tough teams like Phoenix Suns and Memphis Grizzlies twice.

Tomorrow is going to be their third matchup with the Grizzlies this season, having split their last two games. The most encouraging sign for the Lakers since the All-Star break is that their new additions seem to be adapting rather seamlessly. Aside from D’Angelo Russell, who injured his ankle last week, the new Lakers have all filled roles the Lakers desperately needed. Jarred Vanderbilt has been a beast on defense and Malik Beasley has been a great shooter.

The Lakers have won three straight games with role players featuring prominently. But now is the time for Anthony Davis to truly take over. Without LeBron, AD gets another chance to put the Lakers on his back. He’s been better lately after a rocky return from an injury, shooting right at 60 percent over the last two weeks and averaging 22 points and 14 rebounds. Los Angeles is going to need prime AD for their last 20 games to even sniff the playoffs.

What’s up with the Grizzlies?

Memphis—since Ja Morant said they were good in the West—has, in fact, not been good. At least, the Grizzlies haven’t played to the standard they set at the beginning of the season, but they have had some promising performances sprinkled in with the stinkers.

The Grizzlies have been about average on the road with an 11-18 record, so far. Their two most recent losses against the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers came on the road and they were close. Memphis just couldn’t put together enough stops against two fellow NBA Finals contenders.

Then, they crush teams at home, where they’re 25-5. Last Sunday, the Grizzlies crushed the Denver Nuggets—the best team in the league—in a wire-to-wire victory. They have a solid offense but it’s on defense where they fluctuate.

Ja Morant has also somewhat regressed to the mean.  After shooting nearly 50-40-80 in the first couple of months, Morant is down to 46-32-72. The incredible 3-point shooting from early in the season has evaporated, giving defenses more ways to contain him.

But a healthy Grizzlies team can compensate with guys like Desmond Bane, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Tyus Jones ready to make big impacts. But can they stop AD?

Where to watch

This game is happening in Memphis, which should be good news for the Grizzlies as they won’t have to deal with Shannon Sharpe on the sidelines. Catch the game live tomorrow on NBA League Pass at 8:30 AM.