Three things I'm thinking about in advance of Grizzlies-Lakers:
1. Doppelganger Lineups: In a league going smaller, the Grizzlies and the Lakers are the two contenders most reliant on traditional, post-oriented lineups. But the similarity in the starting lineup construction of these two teams is even more profound than that:
Pure Point Guard — Steve Nash vs. Mike Conley
Big, Dynamic Wing Scorer — Kobe Bryant vs. Rudy Gay
Crazy, Colorful Wing Defender — Metta World Peace vs. Tony Allen
Rebounding Machine — Dwight Howard vs. Zach Randolph
Post Playmaking Seven-Footer Named Gasol — Pau Gasol vs. Marc Gasol
The match-ups in this one will be fascinating. Marc Gasol trying to neutralize Howard in the battle of the league's two best true centers. Or Marc matching up with big brother Pau, which we might see some, especially if Howard is out of the game. Randolph and Pau, who have very different games but are, arguably, the Two Greatest Grizzlies. The cross matches on the wing, where Tony Allen guarding Kobe Bryant is reason enough to be in the building and Rudy Gay responding to the brute physicality of World Peace (these jokes will never get old) could be a key to the game.
The Lakers line-up, full of Hall of Famers and multi-time All-Stars, is superior on paper to a similar Grizzlies group boasting two one-time All-Stars and another aspirant, but the Grizzlies have an edge in youth, health, and established chemistry.
This will be the first of three games between these teams this season, not counting a potential playoff matchup down the line. The outcome matters, but this early in the season, feeling out how these match-ups work may be even more meaningful.
2. Mike Conley Could be the Difference Maker: The one match-up we won't see is Mike Conley and Steve Nash, with Nash still out with an injury. On the offensive end, for the Grizzlies, that absence doesn't mean much. The Lakers have been flammable against opposing point guards regardless. On the defensive end, Nash's absence takes some pressure off Conley, which may allow him to look for steals more often and save up energy for offense. With all the focus on those wing and post match-ups, Conley has a chance to be a determinative player tonight. In the Grizzlies only two losses so far this season, Conley has averaged 9 points on 30% shooting. In the 8 wins, he's averaged 16 points on 52% shooting. The Grizzlies will likely need a strong performance from him tonight.
3. Darrell Arthur's Return: Darrell Arthur is set to make his season debut tonight, his first game appearance since the Oklahoma City series in the spring of 2011. It remains to be seen how much rust Arthur has to work off and how much of his previous athleticism remains coming off two different leg injuries. But, in theory, he's the Grizzlies most talented bench player and adds dimensions — guarding the pick and roll, defending above the rim, finishing in transition — in which the Grizzlies are otherwise deficient in the frontcourt. Adding the possibility of the Arthur giving the team's improved but probably a little over-rated bench a needed boost is that fellow frontcourt reserve Marreese Speights has been struggling, so far combining a career-low shooting percentage (39%) with a career-high turnover rate (13.6), resulting in, per NBA.com's advanced stats site, the worst plus/minus rating among the team's rotation players.