The Los Angeles Lakers squandered a chance to close out the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 5 on Wednesday — and the chance to earn a few extra days rest.
Instead, the Lakers got blown out 116-99 at FedExForum, giving the Grizzlies life and their swagger back. Now, LeBron James, Anthony Davis — both fatigued and hurting — and the Lakers will go all out on Friday at Crypto.com Arena to avoid the daunting task of traveling back to Memphis for Game 7 on Sunday (the Grizzlies have the NBA’s best home record in 2022-23.)
“We’re gonna do what we need to do to get that game at home,” said Darvin Ham.
Understandably, Memphis played the more desperate ballclub.
“They just had more sense of urgency during that run,” said Jarred Vanderbilt. “They got more 50-50 balls, they got more offensive rebounds in that stretch, and that kind of fired them (up) getting more possessions and giving them more opportunities to score the ball.”
There’s no excuse for the Lakers to lose Game 6 back in Los Angeles. Here are three adjustments Ham can consider implementing.
Lakers’ Game 6 adjustments
3) Fewer 3s from LeBron
The Lakers and Grizzlies were juggernauts in the paint and mediocre from the perimeter this season. But with Memphis down Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke — plus the foul tendency of Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson Jr. combined with AD’s elite rim protection — the Lakers should be dominating this series inside.
And yet, the Lakers have scored only four more points in the paint than the Grizz. Conversely, Los Angeles is shooting 30.1% from downtown.
LeBron is the primary culprit.
James heroically won Game 4 via tough drives. Less than 48 hours later, he had one of the worst playoff games of his career: 15 points, 5-of-17 FG (1-of-9 from 3), and 5 turnovers. Fatigue and an unhealed foot injury (and age) are factors, but as long as he’s out there, he’s settling for way too way threes. He’s 6-of-36 from deep in the series. (In Game 1, he was a bystander for the final eight minutes of the fourth quarter as he let Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura cook.)
LeBron needs to flip the scoring switch, and he knows it. Here are his point totals in Games 1 through 5: 21, 28, 25, 22, 15. Frankly, he’s often looked gassed, especially after he ramps up the defensive and rebounding intensity.
“Tonight I was s**t,” he said after Game 5. “I’ll be better in Game 6. It starts with me. Tonight I was not very good at all. My defense was pretty good. Offensively, I was not really good. So, we all got to do a better job helping one another.”
The Lakers need to make a concerted effort to attack the paint and get JJJ in foul trouble. It starts with the 38-year-old.
2) Figure out non-AD lineups
AD’s offensive production has resembled a seismograph. Regardless, the Lakers have been consistently demolished when he sits (his defense and rebounding have been awesome). For the series, the Lakers are +55 in the 190 minutes when AD has played and -33 in the 55 minutes when he’s rested.
In Game 5, a 26-2 Grizzlies run that blew the game open began with a 7-0 spurt immediately after AD hit the bench late in the third quarter. For the game, the Lakers were +6 with Davis and -23 without him.
AD’s time sitting (pre-bench emptying):
3:19 at the end of Q1 w/LA small: 13-4 MEM
3:21 to start Q2 w/Gabriel in: 5-4 MEM
1:29 towards end of Q3 w/LA small: 7-0 MEM
2:43 to start Q4 w/Gabriel in: 7-6 MEM
– 6:04 w/Gabriel: 12-10 MEM
– 4:48 small: 20-4 MEM
— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) April 27, 2023
Ham has mostly resorted to small-ball lineups when AD sits, as opposed to leaning on backup centers Wenyen Gabriel (except for a few brief cameos) or true seven-footer Mo Bamba (who has played a mere eight minutes since spraining his ankle on March 5).
Vanderbilt is more effective on the perimeter. Hachimura can bang but isn’t a rim protector. LeBron can’t be asked to play important center minutes in the 2023 NBA Playoffs.
Gabriel is error-prone but he was solid for the Lakers in the regular season. Many Lakers fans in my replies want to see Bamba get a shot. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them gets real minutes in Game 6. The status quo won’t cut it.
“Wenyen, you throw him out there, even if it’s in shorts, he’s always one that brings great energy to the game, as he did tonight when we threw him out there,” Ham said via Zoom on Thursday. “We’ll go back to the drawing board and look at the film and see what we come up with.”
Another solution is just to play Davis more — despite his hip injury.
“I’ll play 48,” AD said after Game 5. “This is what you prepare the entire season for. Starting off low minutes and kind of working your way up through the course of the season to be able to play extended minutes in the playoffs to get victories. So if Coach needs me to play 42, 45, 48 minutes, or whatever to get the job done, I’ll be ready to do so.”
1) Rotational adjustments
The Lakers haven’t really altered the rotation during this series. Ham dusted off Lonnie Walker IV, Max Christie, and Shaquille Harrison in faux-garbage time on Wednesday, but it doesn’t sound like that was a sign of things to come.
“I think it was just a result of the circumstances we were under, more so than trying to scout internally to see who may be able to help us,” Ham said Thursday. “I feel like if I have to plug in a guy due to some unforeseen circumstances, we’re totally confident that our guys will go in there and compete hard and play the right way.”
The Lakers have gotten virtually nothing from Malik Beasley (26.7% from 3) and Troy Brown Jr. (10%), while Desmond Bane has torched Los Angeles in each of the past two games. Ham should consider tightening the wing rotation — either Beasley, Brown Jr., or neither — and redirect some minutes to either Gabriel or Bamba to bolster the non-AD minutes.
Having said all of that, the biggest adjustment that can benefit the Lakers would be for LeBron and AD to be well-rested, spry, and aggressive for 40+ minutes. If that transpires, they’ll finish off the Grizzlies. If not, then role players, subtle tactical moves, and random variables in crunch-time will determine if we’ll see a Game 7.
Ham is a player’s coach. That’s cool. But, it’s time to play your best players big minutes. Ride or die with the stars.
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