Lakers’ James looks to get past Grizzlies
MEMPHIS — LeBron James enters a personal House of Horrors on Saturday night, in the second game of a back-to-back no less, when the Los Angeles Lakers visit the Memphis Grizzlies in a duel of two 2018 playoff non-qualifiers that are off to fast starts this season.
The Lakers exhausted four starters upward of 36 minutes Friday night in a 133-120 loss at San Antonio that snapped a four-game winning streak.
The Grizzlies, meanwhile, played no one more than 35 minutes and got a difference-making contribution from newcomer Joakim Noah off the bench in a 107-103 win at New Orleans.
The Lakers and Grizzlies will meet three times this season, with two being played in Memphis, which gives Grizzlies fans a chance to see James up-close-and-personal twice in one season for the first time in his career.
The double-shot of Memphis was not likely a recruiting pitch by the Lakers when they lured the future Hall of Famer in free agency last summer.
James has made 13 career visits to Memphis, recording a modest 7-6 record.
That’s a lot more boastful than his individual success. He’s been limited to 20, 12 and 18 points in his last three visits, shooting just 18 for 44 overall and 3 for 10 on 3-pointers.
James has scored 23 or fewer points — well below his 27.2-point career average — in eight of his last 12 matchups with the defensive-minded Grizzlies.
James was his usual self in Friday’s loss at San Antonio, pouring in 35 points, but had to accept a bit of a different role with Brandon Ingram out with a sprained ankle.
Ingram won’t play Saturday either, leaving Lakers coach Luke Walton scrambling for ballhandlers.
“We’re gonna have to start splitting LeBron and (Lonzo Ball) a little more,” he said to the media. “Get one of them out earlier than we’d like. Lance (Stephenson) can run some point still. Svi (Mykhailiuk) ran some point with his (Ukrainian) national team, so he’s capable. But we’re going to try to have LeBron and (Ball) on the court for most of the game.”
The Lakers made do in San Antonio, committing just eight turnovers. James had one in his 37 minutes.
The Grizzlies likewise took good care of the ball in their win at New Orleans, committing just 11 turnovers compared to the Pelicans’ 18.
Not that they’re looking past James, but the Grizzlies have embarked on a brutal stretch of the schedule. They’ll go up against Denver, Portland twice, Houston and Golden State in the next 11 days.
Fortunately for Memphis, management brought in a reinforcement this week with the signing of Noah, a two-time All-Star and former Defensive Player of the Year who played only seven games last season.
The 33-year-old contributed 13 points and five rebounds to Friday’s win.
“A blessing,” Noah said of his opportunity this week. “I’m taking none of these moments for granted. Because all this time made me realize how much I love basketball.”
Noah put in 13 minutes in his season debut Wednesday against the Clippers. He hadn’t played since January, when he was with the Knicks.