LOS ANGELES - Rui Hachimura came off the bench in the Lakers' first game of their opening round series, scoring 29 points to propel the Lakers past the Memphis Grizzlies in game one by a score of 128-112 Sunday.
LeBron James and the Lakers missed last year’s playoffs, and Phoenix bounced the then-defending champs in just six games in 2021. These Lakers had to win 10 of their final 12 and rally from 15 down to beat Minnesota in overtime Tuesday night to clinch the No. 7 seed.
But it was Hachimura and second-year guard Austin Reaves who led the team in Game 1 against Memphis. Reaves finished second on the squad with 23 points. James and fellow star Anthony Davis also each scored 20 or more points.
It was a close game throughout Sunday. The Lakers entered the fourth quarter up just six points, but a 15-0 run with just a few minutes left cinched the victory for the Lakers.
Ahead of the series, James was asked about the matchup with the second-seeded Grizzlies. James started ticking off the roster, calling two-time All-Star guard Ja Morant: "obviously the head of the snake."
"Obviously, I haven’t thought about Memphis one minute," James said to laughter.
This series is the two franchies' first playoff meeting. The Lakers won the season series 2-1, with Morant sitting out the final meeting on March 7 for what wound up as an eight-game suspension by the NBA.
Memphis just posted its second straight 50-win season and sixth in franchise history at 51-31. This is the Grizzlies’ third straight playoff berth and second in a row as the West’s No. 2 seed.
Game 2 will be played on Wednesday, April 19, at 4:30 p.m. PT in Memphis.
Here are some other important storylines to watch for the rest of the series.
James became the NBA’s all-time leading scorer in the regular season in February, and the 19-time All-Star also has more postseason points than anyone else. He starts his chase of a fifth NBA title after leading the Lakers with 28.9 points per game in his 20th season.
Dillon Brooks, the guy whom Memphis asks to defend an opponent’s best player, said he wanted this matchup even before the Lakers won their play-in game.
"The legacy is there," Brooks said. "First time back in the playoffs, knock him out right away in the first round. That’ll test us good. They got good pieces, good players."
Slowing Ja Down
Morant set a franchise record this season by averaging 26.2 points a game, and his drives to the basket for high-flying dunks or acrobatic assists are a key to why the Grizzlies are the NBA’s third-best team scoring in transition and best in the paint.
Ham’s defensive plans include throwing lots of bodies at the speedy guard: "We’re going to have our hands full. Our job has to be not to let them get inside of our defense consistently."
Big Man Showdown
Memphis will be without center Steven Adams, sidelined since late January with an injured right knee. That means a showdown between eight-time All-Star Anthony Davis and Jaren Jackson Jr., who was just named a finalist for the Defensive Player of the Year in his fifth season for Memphis.
Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers handles the ball against Jaren Jackson Jr. #13 of the Memphis Grizzlies. (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images)
Davis averaged 25.8 points and 12.9 rebounds a game since the All-Star break, bouncing back strong from the stress fracture in his right foot that limited him to 56 games this season.
Jackson has blossomed. Since his first All-Star game, the NBA blocks leader for a second straight season averaged 21.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and four blocks a game. He also has Xavier Tillman Jr. to help fight for rebounds.
Memphis posted the NBA’s best home record at 35-6 for the first time in franchise history — the most home wins by any team since Golden State went 36-5 in 2016-17. The Warriors won their second title in three years that season.