On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Los Angeles Lakers had the honor of playing in a nationally televised game in the city of Memphis, where King was assassinated in April of 1968. While the day and moment was not lost on the Lakers, who visited the National Civil Rights Museum ahead of Monday's contest against the Grizzlies, the game was lost, rather predictably.
The Grizzlies took full advantage of the short-handed Lakers, who were without Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram--arguably the team's two best players. Ball was a late scratch with a sore knee, while Ingram was an even later scratch with a sprained ankle. Considering how close to gametime the two 20-year-olds were ruled out, neither expects to be sidelined for too long.
Monday was the seventh time the Lakers have played without Ball and the seventh time the team has suffered defeat under those conditions. It is also the third time Ingram has missed a game, and the Lakers lost all three of those games. MLK Day was the second time both Ingram and Ball missed a game together, and obviously, the Lakers are winless without their two young stars sitting out in tandem.
The defeat in Memphis snapped a four-game winning streak for the Lakers and proved to be a major step back defensively for a team that had regained focus on that end of the court during its recent run. This game, though, is tough to analyze due to the injuries, which led to Lakers coach Luke Walton digging deep into his bench with two-way players Alex Caruso and Gary Payton II getting playing time.
Payton only joined the team earlier in the same day, so the 25-year-old point guard did not even have a chance to go through a practice before being tossed into the deep end by Walton. But Payton did not sink. He played an instrumental role in helping the Lakers make a late rally that cut a 20-point fourth quarter deficit to only eight points before the Lakers' comeback stalled out.
Eventually, the Lakers lost 123-114, meaning that the team has lost by an average of 16 points over the seven games Ball has missed.
The standout performer for the Lakers on Monday was Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who finished with a game-high 27 points and seven rebounds in the loss. Over the past five games, Caldwell-Pope is averaging 16.8 points and 2.2 steals on 51 percent shooting from the field and 48 percent shooting from three-point land.
Kyle Kuzma contributed 18 points off the bench. Rookie Josh Hart added 16 points starting in place of Ingram, while Larry Nance Jr. added 15 points and 11 rebounds off the pine to round out the Lakers to hit double figures in the points department.
Whereas the Lakers only had four scorers in double figures, the Grizzlies played a far more balanced game with eight different players scoring between 10 and 20 points on the night. Dillon Brooks led the way with 19 points on 6-8 shooting, while Tyreke Evans finished with 15 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds in the victory. Evans has a habit of killing the Lakers and came within one rebound of a triple-double on this occasion.
Next, the Lakers wrap up their road trip in Oklahoma City on Wednesday night.