The Los Angeles Lakers have not lived up to this year’s preseason hype. Russell Westbrook arrived in Hollywood in the NBA’s biggest summer blockbuster (trade). He joined LeBron James and Anthony Davis to form LA’s new Big Three.
Things haven’t gone as planned, though. The season hasn’t been a complete flop, but its Rotten Tomatoes score can’t be higher than 60%.
And the team’s Dec. 9 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies is peak 2021-22 Lakers.
LeBron James recorded his 100th career triple-double against Memphis
LBJ posted 20 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds in the Lakers’ road loss to the Grizzlies. According to StatMuse, James is just the fifth player in NBA history to reach that milestone.
He joins the original triple-double king Oscar Robertson and former Lakers’ great Magic Johnson, current LA teammate Westbrook, and Hall of Famer Jason Kidd.
It’s another notch on one of the greatest players of all time’s belt.
However, Davis had a team-high 22 points outpacing LeBron in the scoring department. Talent Horton-Tucker and Avery Bradley each reached double digits with 10 points.
But The King’s latest career achievement came in a humiliating defeat to a Memphis team missing a handful of players, including its two most important.
LeBron’s big night came in an embarrassing loss to a short-handed Grizzlies team
Memphis separated themselves from the Lakers with a huge fourth quarter. The Grizz began the final frame with a 9-2 run, extending their lead to double digits, and LA never got any closer.
Memphis was missing its two best players in Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks. Brandon Clarke, who’s averaging 16.0 minutes this year, and Zaire Williams, who’s averaging 17.8, were also out.
Jaren Jackson Jr. posted 25 points on 50% shooting in their absence. Desmond Bane added 23 on 5-of-11 shooting from deep.
Tyus Jones and De’Anthony Melton also scored in double-digits with 12 points apiece.
The two teams’ approach and performance could not have been more different, as evidenced by the postgame reactions via ESPN.
Memphis head coach Taylor Jenkins: “I thought our activity was fantastic defensively.”
Bane on missing some of the team’s key players: “I didn’t know what we were going to look like. … One thing I did know was that we were going to fight, regardless.”
Lakers head coach Frank Vogel: “The second quarter was where the energy of the game shifted. Our turnovers went way up. We didn’t rebound the basketball. We were slow to every loose ball.
“I wouldn’t say I was surprised. I’ve seen it happen with our group this year. We have to keep our foot on the gas and continue to play. … We’ve just got to find a way to prevent that from happening.”
What Memphis brought to the game was a fundamental desire to win. LA appeared lifeless once again.
The Lakers’ loss to the Grizzlies encapsulates their 2021-22 campaign thus far
Memphis was ready to play and fight, even without their franchise superstar in Morant, as well as some key role players. But the rest of the team stepped up and filled the void.
On the other hand, the Lakers didn’t bring any energy, they lost, and their head coach said he’s not even surprised.
The loss dropped LeBron and his squad to .500 at 13-13 and seventh place in the Western Conference. Memphis, meanwhile, moved to 15-11 and is in the top half of the conference standings.
LA was favored to win the West. The Grizzlies were expected to hang around in playoff position but not necessarily grab a top spot.
But the simplest of things has separated the two teams — Memphis plays hard, even when the chips are down. But the Lakers, even on a night when their MVP makes league history, can’t muster the fight to win.
All statistics courtesy of NBA.com.