The Los Angeles Lakers entered the FedEx Forum on Friday night widely expected to end their three-game road trip with a third straight road loss. Well, the Lakers did eventually lose to the Memphis Grizzlies, but a career night for rookie Jordan Clarkson made it an interesting contest that saw the second-best team in the Western Conference narrowly edge the second-worst team in the Western Conference by a final score of 97-90.
Overheard on the court: Zach Randolph to former teammate Ed Davis after Clarkson's 4th bucket: "Ed, who's that?" Davis: "He nice, right?" — Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) March 7, 2015
Throughout the night, fans and players could not help by marvel at how solid the Lakers' 22-year-old rookie point guard looked on the court. In a bizarre start, Clarkson led the Lakers with 10 points in the first quarter, but none of his fellow starters could even muster a single point. By halftime, the rookie already had 17 points and looked certain to best his previous career-high of 22 points, which came only nine days earlier in an away game against the Utah Jazz.
"I think Jordan [Clarkson] is just progressing very nicely," Lakers coach Byron Scott said on Time Warner Cable SportsNet after the game. "I think there is a whole lot left in that young man."
Eventually, Clarkson would finish with 25 points, six assists and four rebounds, which continued to make experts and analysts wonder how the Lakers found this kid unclaimed deep in the second round of the 2014 NBA Draft.
Back to Friday's game, the Lakers' bench came in and provided a necessary jolt after the starting unit lacked balance. At the halftime buzzer, the Lakers led by three points with the reserves scoring 25 of the visitor's 46 points.
The Grizzlies earned an unexpected offensive contribution from Tony Allen early, as the defensive specialist scored 12 points in the first half, but Allen would regress to the mean and finished with 15 points for the game. By his usual standards, Grizzlies center Marc Gasol had an altogether unimpressive outing. The Spaniard finished with 18 points and six rebounds, but eight of those points came at the charity stripe.
With Gasol slightly off the pace, Zach Randolph took charge. The Grizzlies' big man finished with 24 points and 13 rebounds in 37 strong minutes.
All that said, the Lakers and Grizzlies were tied at 87-87 with 1:36 to play in the game. Down the final straightaway, the Lakers would score only three points and the Grizzlies would score 10 points. To simplify the situation, performance at the end of the game is the difference between a good team and a bad team. As such, Memphis won for the 44th time this season, and the Lakers lost for the 46th during the 2014/15 season.
Next, the Lakers return home to play the Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center on Sunday.