The Lead: This game began with both teams in a very fragile state and ended with one in an even bigger world of hurt and the other maybe — just maybe — finding out a few things.
The Lakers began their day in Memphis with an Airing of Grievances, but were not able to follow it up with any Feats of Strength. Instead, their day just kept getting worse:
Dwight Howard had two rebounds and zero made field goals through 14 first-half minutes before grabbing his shoulder and asking to leave the game. He didn't return.
Steve Nash impersonated a traffic cone on defense while shooting 2-6 with six turnovers.
Kobe Bryant went into Kobe Hero mode, which worked for awhile. Five minutes into the third quarter, Bryant had scored 24 points on 11-15 shooting, with three consecutive makes early in the quarter cutting what had been a 15-point Grizzlies lead down to only three. Bryant then went 0-8 the rest of the game and with the makeshift bandages he was applying to the team's offense unraveling, the Lakers completely fell apart, the Grizzlies going on a 30-14 run between the late third and early fourth quarter to blow the game open. (An 11-3 Lakers garbage-time run made the game look closer than it really was.)
As for the Grizzlies, the 106 points were the most the team's scored since January 7th in Sacramento. In both cases, you have to consider the defensive quality of the opponent — per Pau Gasol: “We make these teams look a lot better offensively than they really are” — but for a team that's been struggling to even hit 85, the outburst served to relieve some pressure. They did this scoring at least 23 points in every quarter, without doing much from outside (4-13 from three), and despite terrible, turnover-riddled starts to each half.
It was the Grizzlies first game since the trade that sent away two rotation players, and Lionel Hollins had only 10 active players at his disposal. If an opponent in a death spiral had a lot to do with the Grizzlies success, part of it probably had to do with a collective — and potentially short-term — reaction to the theoretical adversity of the trade. Coming together. Playing with a chip on their shoulder. Having something to prove. Pick your cliché.
But I also feel like this performance suggests a few things for the now newish-look Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies have to be very concerned about injuries after this week's trade, but, absent that, jettisoning Speights should result in an additional 5-10 minutes a game for Arthur, and that's an upgrade.
Nightly Number: Bench scoring has been a problem for the Grizzlies since those halcyon November “Zoo Crew” days faded. But with Speights and Ellington gone and Quincy Pondexter still in street clothes, the Grizzlies scored 43 bench points against the Lakers. Twenty of those came from Arthur, but reserve guards Jerryd Bayless and Tony Wroten combined for 19. And that's another area where the Grizzlies may be able to take some instruction from this game.
Wroten has now topped five minutes in three games and has been productive in two of them. This screams “small sample size,” of course, and Wroten's shooting percentage is atrocious. But his talent and moxie are both real. If Arthur and Mike Conley were the Grizzlies' best players in this one, Wroten, making his “debut” as a potential rotation member, was perhaps the story.
He started the game shooting 1-5, attacking the rim but missing shots and, predictably, not getting calls. Of course, Rudy Gay and Tony Allen were both also shooting 1-5. Then Wroten started making plays: A hoop-and-harm putback. A driving dunk. And a fastbreak feed to Tony Allen for another dunk.
The last provoked a Lakers timeout, at which point Allen ran up to Wroten — Tony on Tony — and popped the rookie's jersey for him.
“I was proud for him,” Allen said after the game. “And I wanted to tell him it was all about the Grizzlies.”
In the second half, Wroten shot poorly but his presence seemed to impact the team's overall ball movement, and he had the highlight of his young career, tracking down Kobe Bean Bryant on the break and blocking Bryant at the rim. A frustrated Bryant picked up a technical foul protesting the non-call.
“He was good,” Hollins said of his newly promoted rookie after the game. “He got to the basket and rebounded. He's long and he's quick. He still wants to shoot the ball from the outside, but we'll live with one or two of those.”
Let's put Wroten's coming-out party in perspective. At age 19 with very few NBA reps under his belt and a wayward jumper, he's going to be erratic. He's going to have a bad shooting percentage. And he's going to have some bad stretches and bad moments. He's also going to keep making plays and, however bumpy the path, keep getting better. And I doubt he'll be as unproductive as veteran Jerryd Bayless has been this month — averaging 4 points and 3 assists on 32% shooting. Wroten's play will have the bonus of both being exciting and having long-term meaning for the franchise.
Also, the Tony & Tony Show should be fun. “He's Tony JUNIOR,” Allen said after the game of his new charge. “Don't get it twisted. I'm the Grindfather.”
“Tony is a funny guy,” Wroten said. “He helped me a lot. He is the one who said, 'stay with it.' When I wasn't playing, he was still encouraging me. Before the game and after the game when I work out, he's still there. He said, 'Your time will come.'”
As for Bayless, his 10 points on 4-7 shooting marked his best offensive output since November. Maybe that's playing against the Lakers defense. Maybe it's just happenstance. But I do suspect — as I wrote in my trade analysis — that spending a little more time off the ball now that Wroten is getting rotation time could get him going a little bit.
The Match-Up: The Conley Correlation was in effect yet again, with Mike Conley darting around a stationary Steve Nash for mid-range jumpers and floaters to score 19 points on 9-14 shooting, with six assists and nary a turnover.
That match-up was a predictable one. Elsewhere, there were less conventional match-up issues all over the floor. Lionel Hollins praised Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni for an effective cross-match to begin the game.
“I thought putting Metta World Peace on Zach [Randolph] was smart,” Hollins said. “But we were able to exploit the other half of that match-up.”
Missing so many of his usual options and having that compounded by having half of his active roster get in foul trouble led Hollins to try lots of unconventional — and, in some cases, probably unwanted — stuff. Jerryd Bayless guarded Kobe Bryant for a couple of minutes, and that did not go well. Disliking that look and with Tony Allen in foul trouble, Hollins went to a previously unseen big lineup that featured Rudy Gay at the two (on Kobe) and Darrell Arthur at the three (on MWP).
“I didn't plan on anything,” Hollins said. “I said when I went in that I had to see how it went and Tony (Allen) gets in foul trouble. We had no other size at the two and three. It's just about match-ups. I mean, this whole game is really about match-ups and you try to keep the disadvantages to a minimum.”
Elements of Style: Marc Gasol had a quietly productive game statistically — 8 points on 4-7 shooting, with 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks, and no turnovers — while playing his typically excellent defense. But he provided even more entertainment value, starting the game with a sideline double team on Steve Nash where he managed to both push Nash to the floor without fouling and force a turnover. Later, he battled with Dwight Howard so fiercely, that I'm surprised the pair didn't come to blows, much less draw any technical fouls.
But the best moment, predictably, was when we finally got some Gasol-on-Gasol action in the second half, leading to this:
“Marc hits a shot over Pau, then runs back down the court doing the "bitch can't guard me" head-shake.” — @netw3rk
The Jacob Riis Report: The Lakers issues with age, health, and chemistry among its stars and coach are major and well-covered. But let's take a minute to acknowledge how bad this team is beyond its starting five. At one point, they had Chris Duhon and Robert Sacre on the floor ... and they didn't just trade away half their bench.
Tweet O’ the Game: With Faker fans dotting FedExForum, the trash talk started early tonight. First this:
Our Gasol starts … — @MarkMcCleskey
Decent crowd for weeknight against a lottery team. #LOLakers — @KevinRitz
I also want to co-sign this:
Let us pause a moment to praise Chris Wallace, who took Tony Wroten over the objections of some in the organization. You ALWAYS take talent — @Geoff_Calkins
Arena Action: An awkward moment on the scoreboard screen just before the tip, with a Lionel Hollins interview soundbite on the trade: “It's a business decision to keep our core, so we just have to keep going.” Not much of a rallying cry.
Justin Moore of local rock band Ingram Hill acquitted himself well on the anthem
Where They Stand: The Grizzlies improved to 27-14 and remain fourth in the West. At the exact halfway point of the season, the Grizzlies are on pace for a franchise-best 54-28 record.
Looking Ahead: The Grizzlies remain at home and host the Brooklyn Nets on Friday night.
Announced Attendance: 17,984, just shy of a sellout. My man @kevincerrito makes the point that having the MLK Day game and a Lakers game back to back — both often sellouts, both just a little short — probably hurt the crowd for each.
Ten-day-contract signee Christapher Johnson made his NBA debut, playing seven minutes. Johnson missed both his three-point attempts, but scored twice at the rim, including completing the most unlikely Grizzlies play of the season: A Hamed Haddadi-Chris Johnson give-and-go.
The team's other new acquisition, big man Jon Leuer, was not active. He'd passed his physical for the Grizzlies, but the team was still awaiting completed physicals on the Cleveland end to make the deal official and allow Leuer to suit up.
The Grizzlies improved to 12-0 when topping 100 points.
Zach Randolph added to his NBA lead in double-doubles with a quiet 12-10.