After clinching the 7th seed with a play-in game victory over the Timberwolves, the Lakers open the 2022-23 playoffs on the road in Memphis against the 2nd seeded Grizzlies. The game tips at 12:00 p.m. PT on ABC and 710 ESPN Radio.
Below are three things to know ahead of the matchup:
By the end of Tuesday's play-in game vs. the Timberwolves, LeBron James and the rest of his teammates were understandably fatigued. LeBron played 45 minutes in the overtime victory, with Anthony Davis (42 minutes) and Austin Reaves (39 minutes) closely behind him.
Beyond those heavy minutes, however, the Minnesota game was the eighth game the Lakers had played in 14 days, with half of those coming in the team's final extended road trip of the season. To those physical stresses of travel and a narrow timeline of games, add in the mental burden of playing in what equated to must-win games in the team's pursuit of a top-10 seed and the chance to make the playoffs, and it's fair to assume the players and coaches alike were running on fumes by time the Lakers closed out the T'Wolves to clinch a playoff berth.
After that win, however, the Lakers are as well rested as they've been since the All-Star break. With four full days off before Game One, and then two days off before game two and an additional two days off in advance of game three, the Lakers are looking at a stretch where they will play four games in 13 days. After the much more condensed schedule to close the season, this sort of reprieve is welcomed.
That said, while the additional time off provides opportunities to refresh both physically and mentally, the potential for some rust to develop is also real. And with the team heading into the naturally hostile environment of a road playoff game against a team with the best home record this season, guarding against any slippage of sharpness and rhythm is something to watch for in Game One.
LEBRON AND AD IN THE PLAYOFFS
The experience factor of both teams will be a major talking point throughout this series, but beyond the individual experience of both teams' key players is the collective experience and success of both sides.
The Grizzlies, of course, are a team on the rise and can point to their advancing to the second round of last season's postseason and their pushing of the eventual champion Warriors to six games. They rode that togetherness to a wonderful regular season this year and can clearly look to that continued success as a steppingstone to the run they hope to go on these playoffs.
For the Lakers there is not that same team-wide collective experience for a group mostly pulled together in the 2022 offseason and in the lead up to the February trade deadline. However, there is a collective experience with their top two players and superstar duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
In the two previous playoffs LeBron and AD played in as teammates, the Lakers have a collective record of 18-7 in the games they've both played in, with 16 of those wins (and five of the losses) coming in the run to the 2020 championship. Further, the following season, the Lakers were up 2-1 over the eventual Western champion Suns in the first round, before AD was hurt in the first half of Game 4 and was unable to continue that game and missed the rest of the series. In the 24 playoff games in which both started and finished the game, then, the Lakers are 18-6 (.750 winning percentage), which included prolonged dominant stretches from both players.
Beyond their success as teammates with the Lakers, both also have extensive playoff success for their full careers, with both ranking in the top-10 of points per game in the playoffs -- LeBron is 6th at 28.7 in 266 games, while AD is 9th at 27.3 in 39 playoff games. For Memphis, Ja Morant also makes this list at 8th, with an average of 28.2 points in 14 career games -- a number the Lakers will certainly try to bring down in this series.
MATCHUP WITH MEMPHIS
With the need to beat an opponent four times before advancing, the playoffs are the ultimate proving ground for a team and individual players alike. Game plans are put into place, refined, adjusted, and stripped-down multiple times over the course of a series as teams jockey for advantage can sustain them all the way through to a series win.
Against an excellent Grizzlies team, the Lakers will have their hands full seeking out those sorts of exploitable cracks that they can turn into the types of fissures that they can leverage into a second-round appearance. Nothing will come easy, nor should it! It's the only way the playoffs should be.
That said, there are several factors that, heading into the series, the Lakers can try to control in the hopes of gaining a footing. First and foremost is controlling the tempo of the games. While season-long rankings say the Lakers are one of the top teams in pace (4th for the year), they dipped to 12th after the All-Star break, playing a more deliberate style with their rebuilt roster.
Continuing with that more methodical style will be important vs. a Grizzlies team that can really race the floor and impact the game in transition. For the season, Memphis ranked 2nd in fast break points scored per game (18.0), which is also an area where the Lakers' defense struggled (27th for the season, 15.4 fast break points allowed). Darvin Ham called his team's transition defense "huge" for the series, noting that while Ja gets a lot of attention, they have multiple players who can initiate the break, so this is a major focus for the team.
On an individual level, while there are several matchups that intrigue, the one between Anthony Davis and Jaren Jackson, Jr. will be critical. Davis, as noted above, is one of the marquee playoff scorers in league history. When added to how AD can impact the game defensively, his importance to the Lakers and significance on the Grizzlies' scouting report is self-evident.
As for Jackson, he's one of the NBA's preeminent defensive players, one the few big men with the combination of range, strength, size, and instincts to impact opponents on the perimeter and when protecting the paint in a manner comparable to AD. Jackson's offensive game and repertoire is not as advanced nor diverse as Davis', and it's that part of their respective game that can separate the two, but how both handle each other's attacks and versatility on both sides of the ball when they directly match up will be a key factor in determining the series.
Lastly -- and this is related to Jackson, but applicable to multiple other players on both sides of the floor -- is how both teams manage their foul situations and how that translates to both teams' abilities to get to the free throw line while keeping their opponent from doing so.
For the season, the Lakers were one of the elite teams in the league in regards to fouls drawn (2nd) and committed (1st), and free throws attempted by them (1st) vs. their opponents (1st). Memphis, meanwhile, is middle of the pack in all those categories, setting up the potential for a discrepancy in free throw attempts and an advantage for the Lakers to get some easy points at the line.
Further complicating things for Memphis is that their two best defensive players can be two of the more foul-prone players in the NBA. For players who played at least 1500 minutes and appeared in at least 50 games, Jackson Jr. committed the fourth-most fouls per 48 minutes (6.1) while Dillon Brooks (5.2) committed the twelfth-most per 48 minutes. Considering both will carry heavy defensive burdens by defending LeBron and/or AD for extended stretches, their ability to defend without fouling will be tested.