Five things to watch in Lakers-Grizzlies matchup
1. Pacing The Lakers have four games this week including Tuesday against Memphis, Wednesday at Sacramento, Friday against Toronto and Sunday against Portland. Although the Lakers play only 15 sets of back-to-back games compared with the 20 last year, these series of games will surely test the Lakers' energy level fairly early.
Meanwhile, Memphis' matchup with the Lakers serves as the start of a four-game trip. That's why it shouldn't be surprising if both the Lakers and Grizzlies appear more cognizant of pacing themselves. Considering that the Lakers are the defending champions, the Grizzlies wouldn't necessarily dial it down. And since the team appears in a very hungry mood, I don't expect the Lakers to just mail it in either. But it shouldn't be surprising if the Lakers play at a more deliberate pace than in their first three games where they averaged a league-leading 111 points per game against high-energy teams in Houston, Phoenix and Golden State.
2. Can the starters get rest again? Forward Lamar Odom joked that he'd love it if every game turned out similarly to the team's 107-86 victory Sunday over the Golden State Warriors. The Lakers (3-0) coasted to a double-digit win, four of the starters cracked double digits, four of them played under 30 minutes and every player on the roster received playing time. It's not exactly a guarantee that the same scenario will play out against Memphis (2-1), considering that the Grizzlies are a much better team, featuring the talents of Rudy Gay (22.3 points per game) and former USC guard O.J. Mayo (19.3 ppg). It's also conceivable that Coach Phil Jackson will be worried more about limiting minutes against Sacramento simply because of the caliber of opponent. But it never hurts to get a head start.
3. Gasol vs. Gasol As I mentioned this morning, Pau and Marc Gasol are extremely competitive with each other. There's no reason why that shouldn't stand true this time around. But this matchup at center goes to Pau for reasons beyond the fact he's simply better than Marc and in six games against his former team averaged 16 points, 9.7 rebounds and four assists per contest. Pau won the Western Conference player of the week honor for the seventh time in his 10-year career, thanks to averaging through three games 25.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and two blocks per contest, a clip that speaks to the team's increased reliance on him in terms of playing time (a team-leading 38.3 minutes of burn a night thus far) and responsibility while Kobe Bryant continues to heal his surgically repaired right knee and Andrew Bynum remains in rehab from his.
The uncertainty surrounding Zach Randolph's status (bruised lower back) could make Jackson feel more comfortable that Gasol and Lamar Odom don't have to shoulder as much of the burden as if Randolph were fully healthy. Something tells me Gasol will relish every minute he can stay on the floor, even if it is a regular-season game in November.
4. Ron Artest vs. Gay This is the kind of matchup Artest flourishes in, where he can lock down on a specific high-profile scorer. Artest reiterates time and time again that he's more worried about team defense, and the complementary work he and Kobe Bryant performed on making Warriors guard Monta Ellis work for his 20 points truly illustrated that.
Gay's 17 points on seven of 17 shooting against Artest in the Lakers' 99-98 win in late February wasn't a huge drop off in performance compared to his season averages (19.6 points on 46.6% shooting). But Artest made him work for his shots.
It'll be interesting how the matchup tonight plays out, considering Gay's increased his season average in three games to 22.3 points on 41.1% shooting, while Artest has appeared more mobile and quick since then, thanks to entering training camp weighing 250 pounds.
5. Can the Lakers limit turnovers? The only thing Jackson lamented regarding the Lakers' comfortable win Sunday over Golden State involved the team's 20 turnovers. Even if the offensive chemistry appears fairly high early in the season, it's not entirely surprising for that number given the fast pace at which Golden State plays. But the Lakers should be aware of this category, as Memphis leads the league in steals (13.7) and forcing turnovers (21.7).
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Lakers forward-center Pau Gasol guards his brother Marc during a game at Staples Center. Credit: Los Angeles Times