On Friday evening, the Los Angeles Lakers face the longest odds they've seen in some time.
The Memphis Grizzlies have only lost seven games at home all season, and their 43-17 record has the Tennessee team in the second spot with 22 games left on the calendar. On the road and playing in the third different city in four nights would be bad enough on its own, but the Lakers have also only been dressing 10 players for the past few games. Short on bodies and short on talent, the 16-win Lakers would have trouble beating the Grizzlies on a neural court with a full stable of healthy players.
Nick Young's status is listed as "questionable" entering the contest, but most around the team do not expect the crossover celebrity back until Sunday, at the earliest. The backup shooting guard/small forward is suffering with a sore left knee and has missed five games entering Friday evening.
Distributing Young's minutes, Lakers coach Byron Scott has relied on a three-guard rotation that showcases Wayne Ellington, Jeremy Lin and Jordan Clarkson. With Young out, the heaviest load has fallen on Ellington's shoulders, as the 27-year-old is averaging 37.6 minutes per game over the past five games. The former North Carlona Tar Heel is averaging 12.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists since Young last played in a game.
Point guards Lin and Clarkson have helped share the load by taking turns playing off the ball, but the duo has been called upon to play more since Ronnie Price went down with an elbow injury that should keep the veteran point guard out for the year. In the five games since Price last stepped on the court, Clarkson is averaging 31.8 minutes compared and Lin is averaging 28.8 minutes per game.
Over the handful of games without Price, Clarkson is averaging 15.8 points with Lin close behind at 15.4 points per game. Since the start of March, Lin has hit a new level of consistency he had never before displayed wearing purple and gold. The 26-year-old is averaging 18.3 points, 8.3 assists and 4.7 rebounds three games into the penultimate month of the season. Playing for a contract, the Lakers' loss of health looks like it may result in financial gain for Lin.
For 22-year-old Clarkson, who is a rookie, the strides he has made have been impressive, but kid born in Tampa, Florida set a new career mark with a four-turnover game against the Miami Heat on Wednesday. Since starting his first game on Jan. 23, Clarkson is averaging 13.8 points, 3.9 assists and 3.3 rebounds in 29.8 minutes per game. In Memphis, the rookie will likely make his 18th consecutive start.
On Friday evening, going against both Lin and Clarkson is one of the most under-rated point guards in the NBA. Mike Conley quietly averages 16.4 points, 5.3 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 1.3 steals on a team that has championship hopes. The 27-year-old out of Ohio State University is shooting 39.2 percent from beyond the three-point line and 44.7 percent over all.
While Conley shines on the perimeter, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol give shiners in the painted area. The Grizzlies' strength is, well, strength. Randolph continues to perform at age 33, while the younger Marc Gasol recently celebrated his 30th birthday.
Into his seventh year with the Grizzlies, Gasol is averaging 18.2 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists in 33.9 minutes per game. The All-Star center is widely regarded as the most complete player at his position on the planet.
While the Grizzlies may be heavily favored, the Lakers and Grizzlies still have to play the game. Tip-off is at 5:00 p.m. Pacific Time.