Looking for an early edge if/when NBA returns

March 20, 2020 06:39 PM

The NBA season has been suspended, and it seems likely that once it resumes, the playoffs will begin. With the series set, this gives bettors an opportunity to take time to analyze each matchup in detail to find an edge. Let’s find those edges in VSiN’s NBA series previews.

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (8) Memphis Grizzlies

Series Overview

Los Angeles took the regular-season series 3-1 (2-2 ATS), with an average victory margin of 14 points in the three wins. However, Memphis was a real nuisance most of the time, and that could lead to a much more competitive series than the final scores would indicate. For example, in the Lakers’ 109-108 road win Nov. 23, the Grizzlies had the ball trailing by a single point, but Kyle Anderson turned it over on the final play. Los Angeles won 117-105 on Feb. 21 in Los Angeles, but Memphis came back from a 19-point halftime deficit by taking the third quarter 36-24 and got within four points in the final quarter multiple times. In the series finale Feb. 29 at the FedEx Forum, the Lakers were drubbed 105-88 by a Grizzlies team without Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke. Memphis will not be a typical No. 8 seed and will push Los Angeles on a night-to-night basis.

Los Angeles Offense/Memphis Defense

The first matchup to focus on is inside. In four games against the Grizzlies, the Lakers averaged just 1.061 points per possession, their lowest against any Western Conference opponent. Much like the Milwaukee Bucks, the Grizzlies’ defensive principles revolve around protecting the rim. According to Cleaning The Glass, Memphis ranks seventh in rim protection, allowing opponents to shoot just 61.4% within 4 feet of the hoop. Los Angeles is second in percentage of attempts at the rim and first in shooting percentage within 4 feet at 68.9%. On the season, the Lakers are getting 46.5% of their points in the paint, but against the Grizzlies that figure fell to 41.9%. Defending the rim is a Memphis strength, and that has led to Los Angeles being forced to find success elsewhere.

The Grizzlies struggle in two areas on defense, one of which the Lakers can exploit. Memphis ranks 19th in defending in transition, allowing opponents to average 1.241 points per possession on the fast break. Los Angeles owns the second-best offensive rating in transition this season, averaging 1.300 points per possession. The Lakers start 16.4% of their possessions with a transition play, fifth most in the league. They’re even deadlier off live rebounds, 30.1% of which led to a transition play, and they average 1.257 points per possession in those scenarios. However, Los Angeles is only plus-8 on the fast break in the four games against Memphis. Why? Look no further than the battle on the boards. As stated, the Lakers’ transition game thrives off live rebounds, but they have won the rebounding battle in this series just once. It is no surprise that in that game, a 120-91 Los Angeles win, the Lakers outscored the Grizzlies 27-12 in transition. It’s pretty clear that if the Lakers want to have more success on offense than they have had in the regular season against the Grizzlies, they need to attack the glass and get out in transition. That is easier said than done.

Memphis Offense/Los Angeles Defense

As tough as it has been for Los Angeles’ offense to succeed against Memphis’ defense, it has been even harder for the Grizzlies’ offense in this series. In the four games, Memphis is averaging just 1.007 points per possession while shooting 42.9%. Surprisingly, the Grizzlies have found consistent success in one area — the paint. In three of the four games, Memphis has outscored Los Angeles inside by an average of 7.5 points per game while averaging 53.0 points in the paint. Part of the reason the Grizzlies have been so good in the paint is their work on the glass, particularly on the offensive boards. They are plus-10 in offensive rebounds against the Lakers and averaged 20.5 second-chance points per game against them. For context, the New York Knicks lead the league in second-chance points at 15.3 per game. That’s an insane clip for Memphis, and it speaks to how they have found so much success inside against Los Angeles.

However, the Grizzlies have shown few other weapons. They shot 32.7% from 3-point range against the Lakers, but that figure is buoyed by their 14-of-30 night Nov. 23. In the other three games, the Grizzlies hit just 22 of 80 3-point attempts (27.5%). It is not a matchup they should try to exploit, as Los Angeles is second in opponent 3-point percentage (34.7%), while Memphis ranks 22nd in 3-point shooting (35.6%).

Prediction: Los Angeles wins series 4-0

Memphis will be a team to back on a game-to-game basis in this series. The Grizzlies were double-digit underdogs in three of the four regular-season meetings, and the numbers show they will be competitive. However, what Los Angeles can do on defense will be the difference from a straight-up perspective.

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