The Memphis Grizzlies have overcome a lot of adversity this season. Whether it be Steven Adams being sidelined with a PCL strain, Desmond Bane dealing with his own injuries, Dillon Brooks’ antics or the various alleged incidents of misconduct centering around star Ja Morant, the team has powered through.
In fact, they managed to make the runaway Western Conference a legitimate race at the end. Now, though, after a stinging loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1 of the NBA Playoffs, Memphis may finally be on the verge of imploding. There were several takeaways from the 128-112 home loss, but most of them portend a bleak future for this series.
Morant’s status for Game 2 is “in jeopardy” after injuring his right hand on a hard fall Sunday, via ClutchPoints. It will be hard to compensate for his absence, as the Grizzlies offense can already get stagnant when the elite point guard is on the court. Furthermore, frontcourt depth and physicality is a glaring weakness, which was already known with Adams out but was more amplified against the imposing Lakers.
But Chicken Little has not come running through the FedExForum yet. There are things head coach Taylor Jenkins can tweak ahead of Game 2 even if the face of the franchise is forced to sit out. Grit and Grind have long defined this franchise, and will need to again in this series.
If Memphis drops another game at home, though, no one will even need to sound the panic alarms to inform the masses that the team’s championship aspirations are coming to an abrupt end.
Here are the two key adjustments the Grizzlies must make against the Lakers in Game 2 on Wednesday.
Ja Morant goes up against Anthony Davis, comes down and hurts his right hand on this play.
He is heading to the locker room pic.twitter.com/pmiHH19Vo7
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) April 16, 2023
1. Grizzlies must lean more on David Roddy and Santi Aldama
Memphis’ identity as the relentless group who will outwork its opponents on the glass does not really shine through without Adams. Trying to recreate with Xavier Tillman is futile. Jenkins might be better off throwing out a smaller lineup so that they can keep up with LA’s deep offense.
That’s right, who would have thought that would be uttered about the Lakers just two months ago. And yet, they battered the Grizzlies in multiple ways. Neither LeBron James nor Anthony Davis scored 25 points, but they were still damaging and efficient. Austin Reaves continues to make his agent happy by solidifying himself as one of the more sought-after restricted free agents on the market this offseason. D’Angelo Russell is crafty and can get red-hot from the floor. And Rui Hachimura just had the game of his life.
The defensive-minded Tillman has done an admirable job filling in for Adams, but his presence was unable to curtail the aforementioned Laker firepower. It might be time to shake things up a bit.
David Roddy is undersized at 6-foot-4, but he can put together a strong effort just the same. He can still navigate around bigger defenders to score at the rim and is an underrated passer. Santi Aldama did actually play more minutes than Tillman, but he should be getting a few more shot attempts as well. He hit 35.3 percent of his 3-pointers during the season, and was 2-of-3 en route to an eight-point outing in Game 1.
In the NBA Playoffs, role players can determine the outcome of a series. These two should factor more into the game plan.
2. Memphis should run through Jaren Jackson Jr. more consistently
Ja Morant had a solid game but could have been more aggressive throughout. That adjustment would make Jenkins’ job coaching and mine writing this piece much easier, but his status is currently unknown for Game 2. Therefore, I will not consider him since he will likely again take a back seat if he does play.
What that means is Jaren Jackson Jr. is going to have to keep eating just like he did last game. 31 points on 13-of-21 shooting with only three fouls proves that he is ready to assume complete leadership in this series. While still productive, he was less impactful in the second half. When Davis is on him, he must maintain the same type of aggression. Five rebounds will also not suffice going forward.
Still, Jackson was the standout for his team and unquestionably among the best players on the court. Consistency and discipline can be question marks, but it’s time for the Defensive Player of the Year candidate to formally announce himself as a complete star in this league. Expecting Triple J to regularly surpass 30 points is not reasonable, but he needs to be the focal point in the crucial stretches of Game 2.
Playing through the backcourt did not produce ideal results. Desmond Bane took many contested jumpers and had just a 33.3 field goal percentage to show for it. The TCU product remains one of the most underrated talents in the league, but he cannot force so many shots against a team who can feast on the boards. Slowing down the pace like they did all season and finding Jackson down low might work in the Grizzlies’ favor and keep the Lakers out of transition.
These adjustments may not be enough given the current health of this roster, but it is their best chance to obtain momentum. Above all, the Grizzlies cannot allow themselves to get outworked by the Lakers again.
Not in the birthplace of Grit and Grind.
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