Talen Horton-Tucker goes to the basket against Memphis

Lakers at Grizzlies: Three Things to Know (1/5/21)

by Mike Trudell
Lakers Reporter

The Lakers (5-2) are set to finish up their four-game road trip with their second straight contest against Memphis, whom they beat 108-94 on Sunday. It’s a 5:00 p.m. local tip on Spectrum SportsNet for Tuesday night.

Below are three things to know about the matchup:

BENCH BOOST
With Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (left ankle sprain) missing his first game due to injury since January of 2018, typical bench booster Kyle Kuzma was inserted into the starting lineup for Sunday’s game. Meanwhile, L.A.’s best plus/minus bench player, Alex Caruso, missed a third straight game due to NBA health and safety protocols.

But thanks to a roster that appears to be 11 deep with starting-quality players, Frank Vogel was able to just give more run to Wesley Matthews and Talen Horton-Tucker in the backcourt, while Montrezl Harrell held down backup frontcourt duties. Matthews (+14) hit four of six threes in his 27 minutes towards 14 points, and was solid on the defensive end, helping hold Memphis shooting guard Dillon Brooks to 3 of 15 shooting. THT (+7) pitched in seven points with six boards and two assists, while Harrell (+16) went for 16 points and nine boards with two steals in his 20 minutes.

LeBron James ultimately closed the game out with a dominant stretch in the fourth quarter, where he scored 13 points on 5 of 6 shooting plus two assists, but the energy and effectiveness of the bench was palpable throughout the game. Without the benefit of a boost from the crowd during the pandemic, that self-starting energy is key. KCP could be back for Tuesday’s game, but bench energy on the fourth straight road game should be important yet again.

BALL CONTROL
Early-season turnovers are to be expected as the Lakers integrate key players like Dennis Schröder, Marc Gasol and Montrezl Harrell, and through seven games, L.A. ranks 17th in turnovers per game with 15.4 per night. That’s right around their 15.2 turnovers per game last season, though that ranked 22nd, as the NBA as a whole has been more sloppy in these first few games.

Yet on Sunday, turnovers were not an issue for the Lakers. They committed only 10 miscues, leading to 14 Grizzlies points, compared to 13 turnovers towards 21 points for the Lakers. LeBron had only two turnovers against his eight assists, while Schröder had five assists without a turnover as the two primary ballhandlers. THT also saw his share of the basketball, but only turned it over once. If the Lakers aren’t turning the ball over, they’re so loaded with firepower that they’re very difficult to beat, as Memphis just witnessed.

If the Lakers struggle to take care of the ball on Tuesday, the Grizzlies will have a much better chance at a split of the two-game 'series'.

DEFENSIVE CONSISTENCY
With their two best players – Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson, Jr. – out due to injury, Memphis doesn’t have a true go-to player at the moment, and the Lakers took advantage by staying steady defensively, ensuring they didn’t allow a third player to get into a real rhythm. That is … after the first quarter, where the Grizzlies scored 36 points on 14 of 24 shooting, with nine players all scoring at least one field goal. But from that point on, the Lakers shut off the faucet, allowing just 18, 21 and 19 points in the final three periods.

Kyle Anderson led the Grizz with 18 points, but he needed 19 shots to get there, hitting seven of his attempts. Jonas Valanciunas and Tyus Jones added 14 points apiece as the two starters shooting at least 50 percent from the field. Memphis was held to 41.1 percent overall, and 27.3 percent from three. There isn't one particular player upon which to focus on Tuesday, but limiting Brooks (0 for 9 in the second half) would be a good place to start.

The Lakers are currently fifth in the NBA in defensive rating, with Anthony Davis (112.3), Dennis Schröder (106.5) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (106.2) posting the best early-season ratings on that end.

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