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Lakers need to tighten defense if they want to win Game 6

Ja Morant scored over D’Angelo Russell, then he hunched over and lowered his right hand a few inches away from the FedExForum court and did the “too small” gesture at the Lakers point guard.

On this night in Game 5 of the first-round playoff series, Morant and backcourt running mate Desmond Bane were too tall an order for the Lakers to handle.

They combined for 64 points, 20 rebounds and 12 assists, the two serving as central figures in the Lakers losing 116-99 to the Grizzlies on Wednesday night.

They combined to shoot 25 for 47 from the field and six for 14 from three-point range in trimming the Lakers’ lead in the best-of-seven series to 3-2.

Russell was asked how can the Lakers better contain Morant and Bane when the series continues Friday night with Game 6 at Arena.

I have nothing to say about them, honestly,” Russell said.

Russell did have 11 points and 10 assists, which was his first career double-double in the playoffs, and a playoff career high in assists.

The Lakers’ trio of guards — Russell, Austin Reaves (17 points) and Dennis Schroder (0 points) — were held to 28 points.

Simply put, the Lakers were overwhelmed by Morant and Bane.

Bane started it off by hitting the Lakers with 14 points in the first quarter on his way to scoring 33 on 12-for-21 shooting, with 10 rebounds and five assists.

Morant was his high-flying self with 31 points on 13-for-26 shooting, with 10 rebounds and seven assists.

“They were great,” LeBron James said. “Desmond started off with 18 in the first and kept going from there and Ja was Ja tonight. But we got to do a better job of not letting them see as many cracks, as many seams as possible.

“Especially in that fourth quarter, we kind of went to a switching defense early and went to a different defensive scheme that we hadn’t went to much this series. And Desmond, let him still get three or four buckets after that, a couple of and-ones and some drives, things of that nature. But we got to do a better job on those guys. But they are definitely two really good players.”

A big part of forward Jarred Vanderbilt’s job is to guard Morant. It’s a thankless job, but Vanderbilt always is up to the task.

He realizes the Lakers have to slow down Morant and Bane.

“With Ja, just contain him,” Vanderbilt said. “Especially in the open court. Just load up and throw different bodies at him. With Bane, just being physical with him. And you know being directional with him as far as like physicality. Not letting him see some easy ones.”

High stakes Game 6

The stakes will be high in Game 6 on Friday night, but which team is under more pressure is still in question.

The Lakers lead the best-of-seven series 3-2 and can close out the Grizzlies. Obviously the Lakers don’t want to return to Memphis for a Game 7.

And in the case of the Grizzlies, they are in another must-win situation or their season is over.

“I think it’s on both teams,” Anthony Davis said about the pressure. “I mean, we’re looking to close the series — which, the close-out games are always the toughest game because the other team is going to have pressure as well to not want to go home.

“So, I think the pressure is on both teams. Obviously, we’re looking not to come back here for a Game 7. In Game 7, anything can happen. Who knows? We’re still in control right now and we got to take care of business on Friday.”

The Lakers entered this series as underdogs because they are the seventh seed in the Western Conference and the Grizzlies are the second.

The Lakers opened a 3-1 lead in the series and teams with that advantage had won the series 95.2% of the time.

“We were told we weren’t going to be here in the first place,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “It’s no pressure, it’s just basketball.”

This story originally appeared on LA Times

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