Perhaps the most interesting series of the first round is the second-seeded Grizzlies vs. the seventh-seeded Lakers. LeBron James and D’Angelo Russell were absent from the previous two meetings. Anthony Davis missed the first matchup. The Lakers won a close one, 122-121; Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke combined for 48 minutes. They will both miss the remainder of the playoffs, which means Memphis will have to find a way to combat the Lakers’ size. Meanwhile, the older, more experienced Lakers must find an answer for the Grizzlies’ speed and energy.
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Memphis is deep, young, and talented, boasting another successful regular season despite Morant missing some time. Even when Morant does not play, the Grizzlies boast an impressive supporting cast that includes Jaren Jackson Jr., Desmond Bane, and Dillon Brooks. On the other side, the Lakers ride into the playoffs off one of their most up-and-down seasons in recent memory; they started the season 2-10, traded point guard Russell Westbrook mid-season, and promptly had a remarkable turnaround that vaulted them from the depths of the Western Conference into the seventh seed.
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Yet despite the drama, Los Angeles always has a shot if superstars Lebron James and Anthony Davis are healthy and hooping; when those two are on, the Lakers can beat anyone. On paper, the Grizzlies are championship contenders. They have star power (Ja Morant), an elite defensive unit (led by Dillon Brooks and Jaren Jackson), and a great supporting cast. Despite this, most experts do not expect the Grizzlies to make it out of the first round.
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This is an oversight; Memphis is a well-coached and talented team. Their first-round matchup is also favorable on paper. Aside from Davis, the Lakers do not have big men that are offensive threats. This should allow Jaren Jackson to roam the paint where he is most effective. Morant is an electric and energetic scorer, but he thrives almost exclusively in the open court, in transition off of rebounds or live ball turnovers. His half-court capabilities leave a lot to be desired, and when the game slows down in the playoffs, his value gets somewhat diminished.
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There is something about Memphis that feels fraudulent, and although the Lakers have their problems, they also have LeBron and AD. Davis and James will not be able to win this series. They will need help from the other guys. If the Laker’s role players do not fold, expect the Lakers to advance to the next round. The Lakers win in 6.