Grizzlies

Grizzlies Look to Limit LeBron’s Legacy

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The Los Angeles Lakers managed to hold off the short-handed Minnesota Timberwolves in the opening round of the NBA Play-In Tournament Tuesday night.

Now the Memphis Grizzlies will host the Lakers on Sunday afternoon as both teams look to begin their run to the NBA Finals.

For Los Angeles, it is all about LeBron James and his pursuit of cementing a legacy.

For Memphis, it’s about advancing a stage further and cementing their place as legitimate contenders.

This matchup is arguably the most intriguing first-round bout in the entire NBA. You have the up-and-coming Grizzlies who are “fine in the West” and the “been there, done that” Los Angeles Lakers seeking another title before the LBJ window closes.

The Lakers won the season series 2-1, but really splitting the season series 1-1 since the trade deadline. In the three contests, Anthony Davis and LeBron James were never on the floor together and Ja Morant missed a game as well. The home team won every game and the Lakers will have to figure out how to win at least one inside FedEx Forum— something opposing teams have only done six times this year.

Yes, the Grizzlies are without Brandon Clarke and likely Steven Adams. Yes, the Lakers have had the second-best record in the West since the trade deadline after acquiring D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt. The storylines for this series are tantalizing indeed.

Rise and grind, Grind City! This Ja Morant Memphis Grizzlies Bighead Bobblehead is coming out of hibernation and on the prowl for buckets.

AD vs. JJJ

The series will likely be decided by these two players. Los Angeles needs Anthony Davis at the peak of his powers if the Lakers have any hopes of upsetting Memphis. The Grizzlies are hoping and praying that Jaren Jackson Jr. can avoid foul trouble and stymie the LA star at the same time.

In the two games AD played against Memphis this season, he dominated, averaging 29.0 points, 20.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game.

Absurd.

For his career, Davis is averaging 26.7 points and 13.4 rebounds in games in which he matched up against Jackson Jr.

This season, Jaren has averaged 21.0 points and 7.5 rebounds against AD while blocking six shots in the two contests. The problem — his biggest flaw as a professional — is that Jaren had five fouls in both contests.

The biggest argument against Jaren and his Defensive Player of the Year candidacy publicly is his lack of minutes played. Forty of his starts finished in the 20-29 minute range. Despite the five fouls in all three games against the Lakers, Jaren actually averaged 31.9 minutes per game, his third-highest average against an opponent this season.

JJJ has been playing at an All-NBA level down the stretch of the season. Since the March 17th victory over San Antonio, the Grizzlies are 10-2 in games JJJ played. Part of that can be attributed to his 30% usage rate over that stretch. He has averages of 25.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per night as well. His 30.3% usage rate is a massive jump from his career average of 24.4.

But his three matchups against the Lakers saw his second-lowest usage rate of the season at 20.5.

Memphis has to continue to feature Jaren and put the pressure on Anthony Davis to defend. Jaren will have to limit the early fouls and play upwards of 35 minutes for the Grizz to offset AD’s impact.

The King vs. The Pot-Stirrer

Dillon has caught some flack for this, but is he wrong? Who wouldn’t want the opportunity to send LeBron James home in the first round? It is a good test for Memphis and we know Dillon, particularly, doesn’t back down from any challenge.

Dillon is lauded by some as a great perimeter defender that is questionable to others. His effort is unquestioned and his relentless pestering is unmatched. While Dillon is better equipped physically to handle LeBron over the course of a series, statistically LeBron has not been too worried about Brooks.

In 49 minutes through 11 games when Brooks is directly contesting LeBron, James is shooting 58%, averaging 1.4 points per shot attempt. This season, the two have squared off only once, with Brooks holding him t0 five points on six attempts.

Good news for Brooks? Only three players in the league shot worse than LeBron from three at the volume James shot it at. Cade Cunningham only played 12 games, so he should not even count. RJ Barrett and Kelly Oubre Jr. are the two that James outshot percentage-wise at five-or-more attempts per game.

The Grizzlies need Brooks to limit LeBron because no one can really just shut him out. Staying out of foul trouble and away from technicals should be Dillon’s primary focus.

Memphis Grizzlies Logo Jogger

Swish! These Memphis Grizzlies Joggers are nothin’ but net. Practice-level vibes with game-time warmth, and your favorite team front and center.

Battle of the Backcourts

The backcourt is where Memphis has the distinct edge. The combination of Morant and Desmond Bane is at worst, a top-five backcourt in the NBA. The Grizzlies likely are not too worried about Morant and Bane’s ability to guard D’Angelo Russell and Austin Reaves. The Lakers, however, have to be worried about Russell and Reaves’ ability to guard.

Grizzlies are the More Complete Team

Let’s compare starting lineups:

  • Ja Morant – D’Angelo Russell
  • Desmond Bane – Austin Reaves
  • Dillon BrooksLeBron James
  • Jaren Jackson Jr. – Jarred Vanderbilt
  • Xavier TillmanAnthony Davis

Memphis has the positional advantage at three of the five spots. Now the NBA is matchup based and players do not always guard the person playing the same position they do.

Los Angeles is going to have to hide someone on Xavier Tillman and probably Brooks. It would be smart for Vanderbilt to start on Morant. Does Davis guard Jaren or Tillman? Does James hide or take Bane? There will be a mismatch for Memphis somewhere on the floor at all times.

Memphis will start Brooks on LeBron— that we know. They should start Tillman on Davis, allowing Jackson Jr. to roam in help as Vanderbilt is not an offensive threat. Bane can handle DLo and Morant on Reaves. Russell disappears in the playoffs — 35% shooting for his career — further affirmed by his bench-warming duties at the end of the Play-In game Tuesday night.

Grizzlies to Rely on Better Depth

Even without Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke, the Grizzlies are just better. They have a significantly better coach in Taylor Jenkins, two 40+% three point shooters, the likely Defensive Player of the Year and the best point guard in the game.

Grizzlies in 5.

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