The last time the Lakers were in Memphis, things were just a bit off.
- LA was on the last game of an 8-game road trip, and needed a last-minute jumper from Kobe Bryant to beat Boston on the previous night.
- Memphis had won 11 straight games at home before dropping an uninspired contest to New Orleans, minus Chris Paul, in the classic we-can-relax-because-their-star-is-out trap game.
- The Lakers were tired (er, loopy) enough in the pregame locker room to spend 10 minutes giggling about a FIFA 2010 soccer match on XBOX in which Jordan Farmar and Lamar Odom upset Luke Walton and Adam Morrison.
- Bryant was well within range of surpassing Jerry West’s all-time Lakers scoring record.
- D.J. Mbenga played in the first quarter as Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum tried to find their legs on the bench.
Bryant, who’d surpass West with a third quarter dunk, went into attack mode when he seemed to sense the collective lack of energy, and finished with 44 points. He got 18 points of help from Ron Artest, but with LA down two in the final seconds after Mike Conley missed two free throws, Artest rimmed out a potential game-winning three as time expired after Bryant found him on the wing. Gasol and Bynum, meanwhile, combined for only 15 points in 56 minutes, the Lakers scoring a paltry 26 points in the paint all night.
In short, a tired group of Lakers didn’t play like themselves and seemed to hope that Bryant could steal a win late, but it wasn’t to be as Memphis snapped a five-game losing streak to the purple and gold.
However, things are quite different heading into Tuesday’s game.
First of all, Bryant hasn’t played in five games due to a left ankle injury, but is expected to start. Second, the Lakers are extremely well-rested, to the point of potential rust since a schedule quirk has kept them off since Thursday’s one-point loss to Boston. Yet and still, they’d played terrific basketball without Bryant, winning four straight before the Celtics loss and seemingly finding a nice rhythm, to which they now add Kobe.
“He practiced like he was going to go through it and play,” said Phil Jackson after Monday’s practice. “I thought his movement was good.”
Bryant called himself “good to go” and said that he feels like a gazelle.
Memphis, meanwhile, is struggling.
After that win against the Lakers, the Grizzlies dropped five straight games before beating Toronto in overtime, losing to Miami and defeating New Jersey to put them at 28-27 on the season, 2.5 games back of Portland for the eighth seed in the West. Memphis has lost four straight games at home, but at least part of its struggles can be attributed to a tough stretch in the schedule: LA will be the 15th of the Grizzlies’ last 18 opponents with a winning record.
They’re led by the front court duo of Zach Randolph, one of three players in the NBA averaging at least 20 points and 20 rebounds (Chris Bosh, David Lee), and Pau’s brother Marc Gasol, 15.0 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.58 blocks on 58 percent shooting.
While O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay have been at times terrific for Memphis on the wings, LA will likely focus its efforts on the interior with Randolph and Gasol, who outscored Pau Gasol and Bynum 33-15 and grabbed 30-of-49 team rebounds, nine fewer than LA’s total (39).
We’ll get a chance to see it at 5 p.m. on KCAL, or listen on 710 ESPN.