Tonight, the Los Angeles Lakers are in town to take on the Grizzlies for the first time since the Grizzlies defeated them in L.A. back in November as the first game of their undefeated West Coast road trip. (Remember that trip? It feels like a mirage, like something that happened a year ago, to a different basketball team.)
The fact of the matter is that the Grizzlies and the Lakers are in the same boat right now: not doing very well, affected by injuries (the Lakers literally don't have a healthy point guard on the roster) and trying to figure out if they're a dark horse 7- or 8-seed or one of the few Western Conference teams that's genuine lottery fodder.
In case you've been living in the mountains of Peru without access to radio transmissions, Kobe Bryant has returned from the Achilles injury he suffered last year—only seven months ago. The question at this point is still "Should he have?". Bryant has nineteen turnovers in three games since returning, his left calf muscle has atrophied to the point that it's visibly smaller than his right one, which has robbed him of some of his signature moves. The Kobe Bryant that has returned to action is decidedly not the Kobe Bryant of old, and he may never return to that form again given his age.
Meanwhile Mike D'Antoni and Pau Gasol have been taking shots at each other in the media, with Gasol publicly complaining about not getting touches in the post and D'Antoni (correctly) asserting that the worst thing the Lakers do on offense this year is post up. Gasol, who is a free agent after this season, doesn't seem to be enjoying the Mike D'Antoni Era of Lakers history in the least, and he may see himself traded before the deadline if things don't turn around.
All that is to say this: the Lakers aren't in great shape, but they've got a better record than the Grizzlies. Memphis has been bad at home this year, but the Lakers are the type of team they need to be able to come out and beat if they're going to have any hope of making a push for the playoffs once Marc Gasol returns from injury.
There's a problem with that, though: at the time of this writing, Mike Conley was unable to participate in shootaround today and will not play tonight. Conley suffered a thigh contusion against the Timberwolves after a collision with Dante Cunningham's kneecap.
The injury bug has bitten the Grizzlies hard this year, and continues to do so. Without Conley, whose level of play this year has been off-the-charts ridiculous, it's going to be tough sledding for the Grizzlies again, as Conley has picked up his scoring and passing and all around elevated his game to try to make up for the lack of Marc Gasol in the middle. Either Jerryd Bayless or Nick Calathes will get the start (my money is on Bayless) but neither of them is preferable to an uninjured Conley.
Should be an interesting night: a team of injured and/or hobbled and/or disgruntled Lakers against a team of injured and/or unmotivated Grizzlies. The good news for the Grizzlies is that there has to be a winner. The bad news is it doesn't have to be them.