Lakers

Lakers Operate as Favorites While Underdogs

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LeBron James is entering the first round of the playoffs as the underdog for the first time in his 20-year career.

While the odds are stacked against him and the No. 7-seed Lakers, many factors give them a chance to end up on top.

THE MATCHUP

As many people know — especially LeBron — the Grizzlies are legit. Every rotation player on their roster has the potential to pop off at any given moment.

From the league’s most electric player in Ja Morant to the DPOY favorite in Jaren Jackson Jr. and all the way to the most villainized player in recent history in Dillon Brooks. Every single player on this team plays with a chip on their shoulder.

And rightfully, they should. Ja has been ridiculed for his off-court actions, JJJ has been overlooked as the league’s best defender for a while, and as the No. 2 seed, many people still think they can’t make it out of the first round.

Many of these opinions aren’t entirely invalid, however. This season can be seen as a step back in many ways for the Grizzlies. Between actions off the court and overall lack of production despite ramping up and posting the conference’s second-best record post All-Star break (behind the Lakers).

So how can the Lakers put up the toughest fight going into this series against Memphis?

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RECOGNIZE YOUR X-FACTORS

Aside from the obvious LeBron-Anthony Davis tandem being the most important factor of LA’s success, it is important that Darvin Ham and his coaching staff recognize players that are essential to not only lightening the load of their superstars, but competing with the solid depth Memphis has.

Hachimura Has What it Takes

The most important player coming off LAL’s bench is Rui Hachimura.

In a setting like the playoffs where offensive systems tend to matter less, Rui’s ability to get an easy bucket at any point is vital to keeping a relentless attack on offense.

But his ability defensively is what makes him so playable. He is not going to be given the primary assignment on defense — which in this case would be Jarred Vanderbilt on Ja — but he will make switching and mismatch hunting extremely difficult for the Grizzlies because of his sheer athleticism and secondary defensive ability. Getting Rui going offensively makes him engaged on defense and, in turn, translates to winning basketball.

Schröder Clutch in Play-In

Speaking of bench pieces, Dennis Schröder was vital against the Timberwolves.

He is the reason they won the game. Dennis’ motor was on full display in that play-in game where he stayed on the floor from halfway through the third quarter all the way until the buzzer sounded in overtime ON A SPRAINED ANKLE. He knows how and what it takes to win. More specifically, though, he is the Lakers’ best point-of-attack defender and his minutes will be crucial to keeping consistent pressure on Ja when Vando is off the court.

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ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR WEAKNESSES

This Lakers team isn’t perfect and many people know that. Kinks are still being worked out purely because this roster is only two months old and many people were out at different points in that time span. There are glaring weaknesses that, when addressed, will boost this team up a tier, however.

Shorten Up The Rotation

Listen, we know Darvin likes his guys.

But running a 10-man rotation in the franchise’s biggest game of the last two seasons is unacceptable. The Troy Brown Jr.’s and Wenyen Gabriel‘s of the world do not belong in a playoff rotation. Eight’s company, Nine’s a crowd, but 10 is an awkward sixth-grade party that is being chaperoned by that overbearingly ‘hip’ father that wants to be involved in his child’s life so bad.

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Take Advantage Of Their Weaknesses (GO UNDER ON JA!!!)

Memphis is missing key rotational players that would otherwise make this an extremely difficult series for the Lakers. Brandon Clarke and Steven Adams being gone thins out the Grizzly frontline making JJJ’s job on AD more difficult. He is an all-world defender, but Jackson Jr. commits dumb fouls at a high rate. Make Memphis have to defer to Xavier Tillman!

Ja had his way with the Lakers the last time he played them. He put up a 39/10/10 triple-double which included a 28-point third quarter. But what else was glaring on that box score? He went 0-5 from beyond the arc.

The adjustment was simple. Go under every screen set for Morant rather than letting him attack the paint and do what he does best. If Ja and his 30% shooting from three beats on any given night, then you live with it because that means it was just his night.

LASTLY, THE LAKERS ARE JUST BETTER

Analysis and scheming aside, this Lakers team just has a more talented roster overall. This team has been playing in must-win games for the last month. And in those games they went 17-7 — including the play-in game — which is tied for the best with Milwaukee after the All-Star break. They are well-equipped for this atmosphere and are simply more talented.

Memphis better not drop a single home game. Because if they do, they could be on a one-way trip to Cancun in six games.

About Connor Moreno

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