As far as playoff story lines go, it would be hard to do much better than Jerry West’s former team against his current one in the first round.
In his 19 years as general manager and then vice president, West helped build Laker teams that won four NBA championships. He was responsible for bringing Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant to Los Angeles, making the Lakers the NBA’s biggest power and positioning them to win two more titles after he left in 2000.
Now in his second season as Grizzlies president, West has helped put together a team that is one of the NBA’s biggest surprises, has shattered numerous franchise records and will be making its first playoff appearance.
The Lakers are tied with the San Antonio Spurs for third place in the Western Conference, while Memphis is tied with the Dallas Mavericks for fifth. That makes it possible the Lakers and Grizzlies could meet in a matchup between the fourth and fifth or the No. 3 and No. 6 seeds.
The Grizzlies can have another franchise first by winning the season series with the Lakers. Memphis has won two of three meetings this season to avoid losing the series for the first time in its eight-year existence.
However, the Grizzlies are 0-17 at Los Angeles. The Lakers lead the overall series 30-4.
The Lakers have lost two straight, hurting their chances to catch Sacramento for first place in the Pacific Division. Los Angeles gave up a 25-2 run in the first quarter to Portland, fell behind by 16 by the end of the period and never got closer than six in a 91-80 loss on Tuesday.
Kobe Bryant shot just 5-of-23 and Gary Payton 4-of-12 for the Lakers, who allowed the Trail Blazers to shoot 50 percent.
“After the first quarter, we were fighting an uphill battle,” Bryant said. “It was just one of those nights. The ball was slipping through our hands. We were missing a lot of easy shots. We just have to put this behind us.”
Memphis rebounded from consecutive losses by beating Cleveland 92-74 on Wednesday. James Posey, averaging 28.4 points over his last five games, scored 35 to help the Grizzlies overcome the absences of Pau Gasol, Jason Williams and Bonzi Wells.
“We’re not surprised because we’ve had guys (out) earlier this year, and guys have filled in and stepped up,” reserve Shane Battier said. “When other guys go down, we expect guys to step up and play well. That has been really one of the main ingredients to our success.”
Williams will be back after serving a one-game suspension, while Gasol (foot) and Wells (back spasms) are both questionable.
The Grizzlies, who reached 50 wins for the first time, are opening a three-game road trip that ends with a potentially key game at Dallas on Tuesday.