2023 Playoffs: West First Round | Grizzlies (2) vs. Lakers (7)

Series preview: Grizzlies, Lakers renew budding rivalry

From 3 things to watch, a series prediction and more, we dive deep into the Memphis-Los Angeles 1st-round clash.

Will the Lakers have enough to slow down Ja Morant and the No. 2 seed Grizzlies?

Spiciness galore awaits when the resurgent, veteran-laden Lakers hit the road to face a young and brash (and yet experienced) Memphis squad not in awe of LeBron James and the 2020 NBA champions.

“I wouldn’t mind playing LeBron in a seven-game series,” Grizzlies guard Dillon Brooks said on Tuesday. “[It’s his] first time back in the playoffs [since 2021]. Knock him out right away. They’ll test us good. They’ve got good pieces, good players. That’ll be a good first-round matchup for us.”

NBA fans certainly won’t complain about this juicy opening-round pairing.

If you remember, the first signs of a chippy, budding rivalry between these teams surfaced back in January of 2022, when Memphis guard Desmond Bane and James tangled in a minor altercation that quickly went viral.

“We got into what we got into on the court,” Bane told NBA.com at the time.

The Grizzlies left the floor that night with their third straight win against the Lakers. But L.A. would snatch away two of the next three in the series, including a 122-121 win on Jan. 20 that was marred by a heated situation involving Hall of Fame football player Shannon Sharpe, Brooks, Ja Morant and his father, Tee.

Regular-season results:

Jan. 20: Lakers 122, Grizzlies 121
Feb. 28: Grizzlies 121, Lakers 109
March 7: Lakers 112, Grizzlies 103

With Anthony Davis and LeBron James playing their best down the stretch vs. Minnesota, the Lakers reach the playoffs and could be hitting their stride.

3 things to watch 

1. Brooks vs. James. For all of Brooks’ supposed antics, teams would love to have a player as intensely competitive as the longest-tenured Grizzly. Brooks guarded James once in the three meetings between these teams during the regular season, as the latter played in only one of the contests. Brooks limited the four-time MVP to 8-of-21 shooting for 23 points and made sure to let everybody know about it. “I was just making him go left all game,” Brooks said afterward. “I need to play physical with him, continuously bump him all the time and don’t let him take easy shots.”

2. Depth. The Lakers improved in that department ahead of the trade deadline by adding a pair of new starters in D’Angelo Russell and Jarred Vanderbilt to go with solid backups Rui Hachimura and Malik Beasley. Those reinforcements will be tested against the Grizzlies’ second unit, which is led by quality reserves Tyus Jones and Luke Kennard, who is shooting 54% on 3-pointers in 24 games since being dealt to Memphis in February. The Grizzlies are stretched thin in the frontcourt, forcing Santi Aldama to play more minutes with Brandon Clarke (Achilles) out for the season and Steven Adams (knee) reportedly expected to miss the playoffs. Quality minutes from the reserves will impact this series.

3. Anthony Davis. Given the extra attention the Grizzlies will give James, Davis must take on the bulk of the offensive workload. Conversely, Memphis faces a tough task dealing with Davis, who has connected on 50% or better from the floor in five of his last six games against the Grizzlies. In 35 career games against Memphis, Davis averages 22.7 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game. It’s expected Xavier Tillman gets first crack guarding Davis, with Kia Defensive Player of the Year candidate Jaren Jackson Jr. serving at times as a help defender. In the last meeting between these teams in March, Davis was unstoppable, scoring 30 points and grabbing a season-high 22 rebounds. Staying out of foul trouble will be key for Jackson.


Jaren Jackson Jr. looks to bring late-season offensive momentum into the first-round matchup with the Lakers.

Jaren Jackson Jr. He figures prominently in Memphis’ plans for rebounding and defense, especially with Adams out. But Jackson opens the Grizzlies’ offense when he’s aggressively getting to his sweet spots on the floor. Jackson scored 31 points or more in three of his last four regular-season appearances. When he’s aggressive, defenses must respect him as well as Ja Morant, who finished ninth this season in paint scoring after leading the league in that stat in 2021-22. The threat of Jackson and Morant inside leads to solid looks outside for knockdown shooters like Desmond Bane and Luke Kennard. Pick your poison.

Number to know

23.4 — The Lakers allowed 23.4 transition points per game, the fourth-most in the regular season. L.A. ranked 12th defensively overall, and they were third on that end of the floor (110.9 points allowed per 100 possessions) as they went 18-9 after the trade deadline. But that defense wasn’t great in transition, which could be a problem against this particular opponent.

With Desmond Bane (6.6) and Ja Morant (6.1) ranking fifth and seventh among individuals, the Grizzlies ranked second with 25.8 transition points per game. Overall, Memphis took a step backward offensively this season (ranking 11th after ranking fourth last season), but it remained potent on the break.

L.A. won two of the three regular-season meetings. Over their two losses (one without Morant), the Grizzlies totaled 17 fast break points. In their Feb. 28 win, they had 33.

— John Schuhmann

The Pick

Los Angeles owns a puncher’s chance considering its talent level and experience against the Grizzlies’ relative youth. And it’s always unwise to bet against James. But it is Memphis’ time. This young, hungry squad has advanced a little further in each of its last two postseason berths, learning valuable lessons along the way to apply in this series. Grizzlies in 6. 

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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