The resurgent Los Angeles Lakers will have to go without an injured LeBron James when they visit one of the powers of the Western Conference, the Memphis Grizzlies, on Tuesday night.
The meeting will be the first of two over an eight-day span for teams that hooked up in a doozy in Los Angeles last month, with the Lakers prevailing 122-121 thanks to a 41-point, fourth-quarter explosion and a go-ahead three-point play by Dennis Schroder with seven seconds left.
The Lakers got 29 points from Russell Westbrook in that one. He is no longer with the team, but Anthony Davis, who missed that game, has returned to help Los Angeles win three in a row, including a remarkable 111-108, come-from-behind effort Sunday in Dallas.
Davis had 30 points against the Mavericks. Jarred Vanderbilt chipped in with a 15-point, 17-rebound double-double, while fellow newcomer Malik Beasley added eight points.
James had 26 points in the win but twisted his right foot when he stepped on an opponent’s foot in the third quarter. He was able to finish the game but was clearly still in pain afterward.
With a back-to-back looming — the Lakers visit Oklahoma City on Wednesday — James had left the door open to potentially sit out one or both of the games, even while acknowledging the importance of each.
“It’s been better,” he reported of his injury after the Dallas game. “But I definitely wasn’t going to go to the locker room and not finish the game out (Sunday). Just understood the importance of the game … We’ll monitor it the next couple days, see how it feels and go from there.”
On Monday, James was officially listed as out for the game against the Grizzlies due to right foot soreness.
The Lakers also announced that starting point guard D’Angelo Russell — who had missed the Dallas game with a right ankle sprain — is doubtful for the Memphis game.
Like the Lakers, the Grizzlies are coming off one of their most impressive performances of the season. They blitzed the West’s top team, the Denver Nuggets, on Saturday night with a 38-22 second-quarter performance that led to a comfortable 112-94 win in what was billed as a possible Western Conference finals preview.
Ja Morant paced the win with 23 points. Tyus Jones had 17 off the bench, then was the leader in tempered enthusiasm with a pack of Western teams — including the Lakers — poised to challenge the Grizzlies and Nuggets in the playoffs.
“They’re a good team,” he said of the Nuggets, “but it’s also one game and we know that. So don’t try to look too much into it, but also try to see the positive of what we did well (Saturday) and try to use that as momentum moving forward.”
The Grizzlies will play the Nuggets and Lakers, as well as the restocked Los Angeles Clippers, on a four-game trip that tips off Wednesday in Houston.
The Lakers and Grizzlies will take the court looking at the Western playoff picture from a different perspective.
Even with two big wins — over Dallas and Golden State — coming out of the All-Star break, Los Angeles began the week in 12th place in the West. That was a game out of the final playoff play-in spot and 2 1/2 out of a top-six landing with just 21 games remaining.
Meanwhile, Memphis’ win over Denver only trimmed one game off the Nuggets’ lead, which remains a healthy one at 5 1/2 games. The clubs have just one more head-to-head remaining, that coming Friday in Denver.
–Field Level Media