So, LeBron James, your Lakers have just defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves in the NBA’s play-in game on Tuesday night and have advanced to the first round of the playoffs to face the young, brash and cocky Memphis Grizzlies.
Can you, LeBron James, give the media an early scouting report on a second-seeded Grizzlies team that has All-Stars in super-talented point guard Ja Morant and versatile power forward Jaren Jackson Jr.?
“A really good team,” James said late Tuesday night after producing 30 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in 45 minutes and 18 seconds. “Very well-coached. Very well-balanced. Obviously, the head of the snake is Ja Morant. But there’s another All-Star in Jaren Jackson, who was up there for defensive player of the year. His ability to block shots but also offensively, he’s very dynamic as well.
“Tyus Jones, their point guard off the bench, has led the league in assist-to-turnover ratio, I think the last six years. So he complements them very well. Desmond Bane is in I think his third year. Second or third year. But he plays like a veteran. His ability to shoot the ball from the three-point line but also his ability to attack in early transition.
“Dillon Brooks, he’ll have an opportunity to go out there and you can’t disrespect him because he makes shots. And Xavier Tillman has been playing good basketball. Obviously he’s been well-coached all the way since his college days with [Michigan State] coach [Tom] Izzo to now. And so on and so on.”
James didn’t even take a breath, continuing to talk about sharpshooter Luke Kennard, “who broke my scoring record in high school [in Ohio] and passed me in high school and there’s a reason why because he’s a laser from the three-point line. His ability to shoot the ball is uncanny.”
James paused for a second and smiled as he was wrapping up his assessment of the dangerous Grizzlies, who host Game 1 on Sunday at noon PST.
“Obviously, I haven’t thought about Memphis for one minute,” James said.
The dynamic Morant was ranked 15th in the NBA in scoring (26.2) and eighth in assists (8.1), and Jackson led the league in blocks per game (3.0). Kennard led the league in three-point shooting (49.4%), Banes was 26th (40.8%) and Brooks is a physical defender.
The Grizzlies were ranked ninth in scoring (116.9) and second in rebounding (46.6). They finished with the second-best record in the Western Conference at 51-31.
“Good team,” Anthony Davis said after collecting 24 points and 15 rebounds Tuesday. “Young, scrappy, you know, obviously Ja, head of the snake. Jaren Jackson. Obviously, they have guys that’s not going to be playing — Steven [Adams], Brandon Clarke — but they're still a good team. I mean, they’re [seeded second] for a reason. Even without Ja, they were winning basketball games. We’ll do our normal scouts and prep work for them, but it’s going to be a fun, interesting series.”
Just to get to this point took a lot of work for the Lakers after they started the season 2-10. It didn’t look as if they’d be a playoff team, something they remind themselves of constantly.
On the whiteboard in their locker room was posted this analytic — a 0.3% chance of making the playoffs after that disastrous start to the season.
“Just how crazy it is to start 2-10 and we are fighting for a playoff spot, pre-play-in game and then now go in and play the play-in game and then get in as the seventh [seed] is unreal,” Davis said. “We definitely feel like we deserve it. We’re supposed to be here. We worked too hard and put in the work to get in this position.
"But, yeah, I mean, that’s where we started, 2-10. And the analytic guys and the media upstairs and our front office and everything saying that we had 0.3% chance of getting into the playoffs and obviously we defeated those odds. But we don’t want to stop here just getting in. Obviously, you got small victories seeing where we started. But now we want to get greedy and make some noise in these playoffs.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.