LOS ANGELES—Despite the season winding down and the Lakers playoff hopes being long gone, the young team showed a spark on Sunday, April 2 as they beat the playoff bound Memphis Grizzlies in a close game at Staples Center.
Both teams had big men out due to injury, Laker centers Tarik Black (foot) and Ivica Zubac (ankle), while Memphis missed Center Marc Gasol (foot) and Foward JaMychal Green. It was the Lakers trio of big men Julius Randle who scored 18 points and 11 rebounds; Larry Nance Jr. who scored 12 points and 14 rebounds; and Thomas Robinson who scored 12 points and 10 rebounds who stepped up. Each recorded a double double and helped the Lakers secure a 51-33 advantage on the boards, including 17-5 on offensive rebounding.
Nance, who had a career high in rebounding, took note of the adjustments they made in order to win.
“We didn’t have a traditional center active today. Me, Ju and T-Rob did a pretty good job of playing that 4.5 (position),” said Nance.
Another player who seemed to make adjustments that helped the Lakers win was point guard D’Angelo Russell. Russell had a poor start to the game with four turnovers in the first quarter alone. He was able to improve his performance though, he scored 19 second half points in a see saw game that featured 12 lead changes and 19 ties. After the game, head coach Luke Walton praised Russell for showing the ability to turn his game around.
“I’ve seen more consistency in his professionalism and in his affecting the outcome of games, whether he’s struggling or hitting shots” said Walton. “He had those early turnovers and before those games would kind of snowball and he would struggle the rest of the night.”
Russell’s scoring output in the second half had the Lakers up five points with 2:35 remaining. Former Ohio State Buckeyes guard, Mike Conley began dueling with him, which made for a fun finish. Conley scored 14 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter, and his three pointer and alley hoop pass to Brandan Wright tied the game with the clock under 2 minutes.
The Lakers responded with a quick 6-0 run that included a Tyler Ennis jump shot, a Nance rebound tip in, and 2 free throws from Russell. Conley wasn’t done yet though. The persistent guard hit two triples on back to back possessions and brought the game to within one with 11.6 seconds left. After two more free throws from the Lakers, Conley had a chance to tie the game on a 3-pointer with 6.3 seconds to left in the game. They say the third time is the charm, but in this instance it was not. Conley’s third straight 3-point shot did not go in like the previous two and the Lakers escaped with a close win.
The victory may be bittersweet for the Lakers as they are now a half game ahead of Phoenix Suns for second worst record in the league, which lessens their chance of retaining their first round pick. The Grizzlies are now in danger of falling even further behind the Oklahoma City Thunder for the sixth seed in the Western Conference.
In a weird scheduling oddity, both teams will next face the mighty second seeded San Antonio Spurs. The Grizzlies will face their division rival Spurs on Tuesday, April 4, while the Lakers will meet them the next on Wednesday, April 5.