After an NBA off-season eruption of trades and free agency pick-ups, the expectations of cataclysmic shifts in fortunes and returns of former champs to glory filled the hearts and minds of fans. Yet, the team that made very few changes to the overall make up of their squad, save losing OJ Mayo to the Dallas Mavericks, tops the NBA with a 9-2 record.
The Memphis Grizzlies demonstrated their quality against the Los Angeles Lakers by utilizing Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol in a 106-98 victory in Tennessee. The Lakers, still unable to scratch the win column away from Staples, did not respond in kind to the efforts of the Grizz, as Dwight and Pau only offered 7 and 6 points, respectively, and 4 rebounds a piece. As ZBo turned his touches in the post into 17 points, adding 12 rebounds, Marc played his brother’s expected role by hitting his jumpers and dolling out assists for 14 points and 8 assists.
Their focus on keeping the ball in the hands of their frontcourt players couldn’t have been clearer than in the middle of the first quarter as Memphis created the lead that the Lakers would never overcome. The 11-0 run, creating a 24-17 lead, relied on 5 points by ZBo and 4 by Marc, whereas 2 TOs, 4 missed jump shots, 3 by Pau, and 3 fouls by the Lakers marked their contribution. By the end of the 1st quarter, Memphis scored 34, while the Lakers managed 17.
The Lakers made a series of runs to get back into the game, but turnovers and shot selection sabotaged their efforts. After climbing back to within 3 midway through the 2nd quarter at 38-35, the Lakers turned the ball over 4 times and Kobe owned 12 of the team’s final 14 points. Memphis continued to move the ball and attack the basket, establishing their overall dominance in the paint of 40-24.
The Grizz also out worked the Lakers on the boards, grabbing 13 offensive rebounds leading to 22 second-chance points. Rudy Gay and Michael Conley found themselves in beneficiary positions due to this board work, chipping in 21 and 19 points to their team’s 50% shooting. In comparison, Kobe dropped 30 points, but made 7 of 23 shots to get there, highlighting the Lakers 44% from the field. Without significant contributions from the other starters, even though Metta added 16 points, the game ended closely, but felt far more like a thrashing.
The lackluster performance of the starting frontcourt did, however, open the door for extended minutes for Antawn Jamison, taking 10 of Pau’s usual minutes. Antawn used flip shot makes in the paint to help him hit a last second jumper before the 3rd quarter buzzer and a three to start the 4th. His flurry, along with 3s from Duhon and Meeks, quickly cut a 12-point deficit to 6, but TOs and shot selection bit the Lakers again. Two straight offensive fouls after two stops on defense halted the run that could have cut the lead down to two. Eventually, the 3s that fell became fool’s gold, leading to three misses in a row, and let the Grizz re-establish their lead.
The focus on Pau on the bench for the 4th will definitely fan the flames of the hot seat he always seems to find. But, bench play on the first night of a back-to-back could allow Pau to extinguish some of the chatter in Dallas. Ten minutes of rest could mean redemption for Pau, or even more talk about more changes in Los Angeles.