The Lakers (21-19) will match up with the Memphis Grizzlies (27-14) for the fourth time this season. The two teams have won a combined 12-straight games (eight for Memphis). Opening tip is set for 6:30 p.m. PT on Spectrum SportsNet.
Here are three things to know before tonight’s contest:
BRON & LIK TAKING OVER
In the absence of Anthony Davis, Malik Monk has stepped into a larger role and has not disappointed. In his last seven games, Monk is averaging 21.8 points, shooting 56.3 percent from the field and 48.2 percent from beyond the arc.
In his postgame interview on Friday, Monk credited the new, (smaller) identity the team has taken as part of the reason for his hot streak of play.
“Just letting the game come to me and not try to force shots,” Monk said. “Just play the right way and the ball will come to me. I space the floor well for Russ and Bron in the starting group, and then everybody else starts packing the lane and that’s when they find me and I get my shots.”
LeBron, meanwhile, posted his 10th-straight game with 25-plus points on Friday (finished with 32 points). At 37, he became the oldest player in NBA history to accomplish the feat, passing Michael Jordan who did it at age 34.
In the five wins of their last six games, LeBron and Malik have combined for 282 points, have both shot above 46.0 percent in every game, and have been the team’s top two scorers in four of those games. Monk’s versatile shooting hasn’t gone unnoticed, especially by LeBron.
“[Monk’s] been in the zone,” James said during Friday’s postgame. “I continue to tell him, take great shots and we’ll get you good looks. He shoots the ball effortlessly but is more than a shooter though. He can put the ball on the ground, get to the rim, super athletic. We want to keep him going.”
Both teams enter tonight on their best win streaks of the season. The Lakers are looking for their fifth-straight victory and the Grizzlies are on win number eight of their streak, following a 15-point win over the Clippers on Saturday.
During the streak, L.A. has averaged 125.6 PPG, won by an average margin of 15.3 points, and has been a clutch fourth quarter team (have scored 30-plus points in the final frame of each game).
The one major stat line that has plagued the Lakers most of the season has been the number of turnovers they make during games, as they are currently 26th in the league averaging 15.3 turnovers/game.
During the streak however, the Lakers have turned the ball over fewer times than their opponent in every game and are averaging just 9.5 turnovers. They have also recorded fewer than eight turnovers in three of those games.
On the other side of the ball, the Lakers have forced an average of 16.5 turnovers and have scored 20-plus points off turnovers in three of the contests.
In Friday’s game, the Hawks came in with the lowest average turnovers/game (12.1) in the NBA. Despite that, L.A. forced 15 Atlanta turnovers and scored 28 points off of them. LeBron credited the executed game plan on both sides of the ball and having guys back as reasons for the win.
“We’ve been in a very good position the last couple of weeks, but we have to continue to stay hungry,” James said. “I feel real good where we are right now.”
In their last meeting, the Lakers led by as many as 14 points in the second half and were on the verge of winning their second game in a row on Dec. 29, and their current win streak would be at six games heading into tonight’s matchup.
Instead, the Grizzlies roared back and stole the victory, handing the Lakers their sixth loss in seven games (a real momentum switcheroo). A four-minute scoring drought in the fourth didn’t help the purple and gold’s situation, as Memphis scored 12-straight points and gained the lead.
Despite the downfall, the Lakers still had a chance to tie the game late and force overtime but missed shots and miscommunication in the final minute squandered any opportunity.
A different-looking Lakers team hits the floor tonight thanks to a healthier lineup, better second-half play, and team establishing its identity.