The Lakers (3-11) have lost two straight after their first winning streak of the season (just a pair of victories).
On Wednesday at Staples Center they’ll host the Memphis Grizzlies (12-2), tied with the Toronto Raptors for the best record in the NBA.
In a close battle on Nov. 11, the Lakers lost to the Grizzlies by just five points in Memphis, 107-102.
That was prior to the return of the Lakers’ Nick Young (thumb) and Wayne Ellington (personal matter). Kobe Bryant led all scorers with 28 points. Carlos Boozer added 20 points and eight rebounds, while Jordan Hill notched a double-double with 13 points and 14 rebounds.
The Grizzlies were led by Mike Conley’s 23 points. Marc Gasol neared a triple-double with eight points, nine assists and eight rebounds. Beno Udrih was a problem off the bench, scoring 16 points in 18 minutes.
Boozer (strained left shoulder) and Ed Davis (right ankle sprain) are expected to play. The Lakers will be without Xavier Henry (Achilles’), Ryan Kelly (hamstring), Steve Nash (back) and Julius Randle (leg).
The Lakers are expected to cut the injured Henry in order to sign free agent Earl Clark, perhaps before Wednesday night’s game against the Grizzlies.
The big-men matchup is undeniably crucial for both teams, but the Grizzlies dominated the last game at the point guard position, getting a combined 39 points from Conley and Udrih.
The pair hit a total of 25 shots in 37 attempts (67.6%) from the field.
Jeremy Lin (12 points) and Ronnie Price (four) combined for six of 13 shooting (46.2%).
The Lakers need to do a much better job defensively, which starts up top with the individual matchups, but extends to each five-man group on the floor playing in unison.
When Lin is an aggressive scorer and playmaker, the Lakers seem to prosper -- although the team tends to run a major portion of the offense through Bryant.
The Lakers have yet to find the proper balance.
Hill and Boozer, along with Ed Davis and Robert Sacre off the bench, did a credible job against Gasol and Randolph in the team’s previous meeting.
While Gasol’s overall numbers were impressive, he only hit three of his 10 field goal attempts. Randolph notched a double-double (11 points and 10 rebounds) but shot just four of 10.
It was reserve Kosta Koufos that did significant damage, scoring 14 points on five perfect attempts in 25 minutes.
The Lakers also need to counter with steady offense from Hill and Boozer, so the team’s attack is not strictly from the guard position.
The Grizzlies are a tough, defensive squad. Their offense has improved over recent weeks, making them one of the most difficult teams to beat in the NBA.
The Lakers played them well recently. They’ll need to duplicate their performance against Gasol and Randolph, while slowing Conley (and Udrih), to get the upset.
The Lakers have been close in a number of quality performances in losses this year, but they haven’t shown enough to indicate that they’re ready to pull out a victory against top-notch competition.