The Lakers (3-1) face the Grizzlies (1-3) in Game 5 of their Round 1 Western Conference playoff series, in Memphis. The game tips at 4:30 p.m. PT on Spectrum SportsNet and TNT and 710 ESPN radio.
Below are three things to know ahead of the matchup:
20 and 20 in Year 20
In his 20th NBA season, there aren’t many firsts left for LeBron James.
And yet, in Game 4’s OT victory, he managed a new career high when he grabbed 20 rebounds to complement his 22 points, seven assists (one turnover) and two blocks.
“I don’t know where I found the legs, honestly, but understanding how great a rebounding team they are, it’s very important that we try to clean the glass when they miss,” said LeBron after the game. “And we still gave up 16 offensive rebounds, so we still gotta do a better job of that. But just trying to do my part.”
Here’s the thing about 20th seasons, and players playing any type of role in the postseason: LeBron is now one of two.
The other is, naturally, the man whom LeBron passed for the NBA’s all-time regular season scoring mark in February, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. LeBron has a significant edge in postseason performance in his four games, with averages of 24.0 points, 13.0 boards, 5.0 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.0 steals, relative to Kareem’s 11.1 points, 3.9 boards, 1.3 assists, 0.7 blocks and 0.3 steals in 15 games.
There have been only nine other players that even played a 20th NBA season: Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, Vince Carter, Moses Malone, Jamal Crawford, Robert Parish, Udonis Haslem (still active) and Kevin Willis. Haslem (two minutes) and Parish (18 minutes) are the other two to make an appearance in the postseason in year 20 or later.
Clearly, no NBA player has ever been as impactful as LeBron James in their 20th season. And the Lakers will need that to continue in Wednesday’s Game 5 as they attempt to close out the Grizzlies.
AD ON BOTH ENDS
Despite struggling offensively for the second time in four games, Anthony Davis has a strong case for being the best player in the series against Memphis. The clear defensive anchor of the No. 1 defense in the Western playoffs, the Lakers are outscoring the Grizzlies by 32 points when AD’s on the court.
With a defensive efficiency of 104.7, the Lakers are holding Memphis to a playoff-worst 41.6 percent shooting overall, and 30.1 percent from three.
Davis is averaging 4.8 blocks per game, plus 1.8 steals and 12.3 rebounds, leading both teams in all three categories prior to LeBron’s 20-board Game 4 pushing his average to 13.0.
On the other end, things haven’t been as easy for Davis, who’s drawing frequent double teams, especially when Jarred Vanderbilt is alongside him in the starting lineup. Memphis is often leaving Vanderbilt all alone to put a second body near Davis, and the Grizzlies are swarming him on the catch with ball pressure, even after being physical with him before he gets the ball.
He's shooting only 46.2 percent in the restricted area in the playoffs, the only player below 50 percent that’s attempted at least 20 shots. Many of those misses of shots he usually makes came in a 4 for 14 Game 2 at Memphis, and he bounced back with a terrific Game 3, scoring 31 points, before falling off again in Game 4, with 12 on 4 of 13 FG’s.
The degree to which he balances things out in Game 5 – regardless of all the manpower Memphis devotes to him – will go a long way towards the result of the game. His defensive impact, after all, simply can’t be questioned at this point.
BATTLING A HISTORICAL TREND
Since the NBA playoffs expanded in 1984, only five No. 7 seeds have beaten No. 2 seeds:
1987: Seattle defeated Dallas 3-1 (Round 1)
1989: Golden State defeated Utah 3-0 (Round 1)
1991: Golden State defeated San Antonio 3-1 (Round 1)
1998: New York defeated Miami 3-2 (Round 1)
2010: San Antonio defeated Dallas 4-2 (Round 1)
The 2010 Spurs team was the only one to win a best-of-seven series, as the NBA used best-of-five scenarios prior to 2003.
As such, the Lakers are attempting to become just the second No. 7 seed since 2003 to beat a No. 2 seed.
The Lakers are, of course, not a typical No. 7 seed in that their team is considerably different from the one that took the court for much of the season. First of all, LeBron James and Anthony Davis have both been healthy, and on the floor, which was an issue throughout the regular season. And perhaps most importantly, the trade deadline was a major factor, with four new players playing double-figure playoff minutes:
D’Angelo Russell: 31.5
Rui Hachimura: 27.5
Jarred Vanderbilt: 21.5
Malik Beasley: 11.3
Prior to the deadline, Russell Westbrook was averaging 28.7 minutes, Patrick Beverley 26.9, and Thomas Bryant 21.4.
The way the new players have fit in alongside the core of LeBron, AD, Austin Reaves (36.3 minutes in the playoffs), Dennis Schröder (22.5 minutes) and Troy Brown (16.8) has made a significant difference.
Before the trade deadline, the Lakers were 25-31 (.446). After, including the playoffs, they’re 21-9 (.700).
L.A. certainly have a significant advantage by managing to take a 3-1 lead. In fact, since 1984, teams with a 3-1 edge are 186-9. Teams that started the series as a lower seed with a 3-1 lead are 50-6.
These are just numbers, however, which show historical trends but that don’t impact this specific series. The Lakers will have to take care of their business against a young, hungry, aggressive team in between the four lines.