Lakers stave off late Grizzlies comeback to reach .500

LOS ANGELES — Lonzo Ball grabbed a rebound, flew up court and fired a pass to his left into Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s hands.

Caldwell-Pope drilled a 3-pointer and Ball shook his head with swagger. Seconds later, Ball found KCP again, and the guard buried a rainbow 3, forcing Memphis Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale to call timeout after the Los Angeles Lakers put an exclamation point to an 18-4 third-quarter run.

Ball pumped both of his fists and yelled in delight at Caldwell-Pope as the Lakers had an 82-60 lead on the Grizzlies. Ten games into the season, the young, rebuilding Lakers are slowly gaining some confidence and seeing some results. Many times this season, the Lakers have fallen behind big or blown massive leads only to fight all the way to the last few minutes. They might not have always pulled out those games, but they were in striking distance in fourth quarters and didn’t fold like most young teams tend to do when adversity hits.

With rapper Kanye West watching, the Lakers built a 22-point lead on a good Grizzlies team that was playing an L.A. back-to-back and found a way to hold on for a 107-102 win to build their first winning streak of the season.

Early in November, the Lakers are 5-5 and have won two straight, something team president Magic Johnson, GM Rob Pelinka and head coach Luke Walton likely would’ve signed up for at the start of the season given how youthful this roster is and that the Lakers have played three back-to-back sets already.

“We are happy with where we are at right now,” Walton said. “… The fact that every night we are finding ways to compete and bring energy level to defend, 10 games in, I wouldn’t have thought honestly that we were ready to start doing that.”

While consecutive home wins over the Brooklyn Nets and Grizzlies isn’t the same as beating the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, the Lakers are looking for building blocks. And a victory like this one — over a Grizzlies team that might be banged up but still has Mike Conley and Marc Gasol and can impose its will on a young team — is a quality win for a team that has also beaten the Washington Wizards and the Detroit Pistons at home as well.

It’s still very early but the Lakers’ spirit is building and a chemistry is forming between a group of players that are starting to enjoy playing with one another. The Lakers were able to score against a well-coached Memphis (6-4) team but perhaps more impressive was their defense, something that continues to be a surprise. Los Angeles held Memphis to 6-for-21 shooting in that game-changing third quarter. Caldwell-Pope, the Lakers’ big free-agent signing, scored nine points during that run.

Brandon Ingram did what Johnson wants him to do in the second quarter, and that was be an offensive go-to scorer who attacks the rim with confidence. He scored 14 of his 20 points in the quarter to swing the momentum for the Lakers.

Ball struggled with his perimeter shot again, going 1-for-8 from 3-point range and 3-for-13 overall. But the rookie stayed aggressive — trying to attack gaps in the defense, particularly in transition — and nearly had a double-double with nine points, nine assists and five rebounds. Kyle Kuzma continues to shine and may not give up his new starting gig as he produced his second double-double in his second straight game as a starter with 13 points and 12 rebounds in place of the injured Larry Nance Jr. (broken hand).

The Lakers’ bench was solid again with Jordan Clarkson (15 points) and Julius Randle (12 points and eight rebounds) giving Walton valuable minutes.

Caldwell-Pope (15 points) provided outside shooting, defense and the type of late-game confidence young Lakers like Ball and Ingram look to in tight situations. Despite having a brief scare with a hip injury when he slipped in the second half, Caldwell-Pope finished the game and had a critical block/strip and jumper late to stave off the Grizzlies, who had cut the deficit to three with 42.5 seconds left.

And when the Grizzlies got back within three with 7.4 seconds left, Brook Lopez, the team’s other calming veteran influence, knocked down two clutch free throws with 5.5 seconds left.

The 7-foot center, who had a team-high 21 points and four treys, is starting to get comfortable with his new team. He’s averaging 27.3 points and making nearly four 3-pointers a game in his past three games.

Fizdale called the Lakers “arguably the fastest team in the league.” He then admitted that he never thought he would “say that with a Brook Lopez team.” Fizdale, though, said Lopez is complementing these Lakers the way Gasol does for the Grizzlies.

On Friday against the Nets, Lopez gave the Lakers a glimpse of everything he can do. He buried six of nine from 3-pont range and scored in a variety of ways inside, including backing in Rondae Hollis-Jefferson before spinning around the Net and throwing down a ferocious dunk. He dropped a highly motivated 34 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks against his former team.

On Sunday, Lopez hurt the Grizzlies repeatedly on pick-and-pops. But he’s doing more than simply stretching the floor. He’s passing well and doing small things that don’t show up in the box score. Lopez isn’t just setting picks for his teammates, he’s sealing bodies off like an offensive lineman and creating space for teammates to score. Against the Nets on one play, he sealed off three Nets with his long wingspan to allow a teammate to score on a drive. Against Memphis, Clarkson hit a jumper after Lopez cleared some space for him and later Kuzma drove off another Lopez seal before hitting a floater.

“Brook been killing,” Ball said. “I am not going to say nothing to him and let him keep doing him. … He be watching Disney Channel all the time. Maybe his favorite shows might have been coming on.”

The Lakers are far from their “Showtime” days. But the baby steps back to those glory days might be going a little bit quicker than even Magic imagined at this point.

“Those two young guys, they are a handful,” Fizdale said when asked about Ingram and Ball, the Lakers’ two big building blocks. “As their shooting becomes more consistent, they are going to become a problem. Everybody is looking at the body of work right now but these kids get better and they got a heck of a [coaching] staff down there that I know is going to develop them.”

copied from espn