Grizzlies 88, Lakers 86

Dear Greg Oden and Kevin Durant:

Who knew that the perfect situation was waiting for you here in the NBA? Assuming the pingpong balls bounce as they should, one of you will be playing for the Memphis Grizzlies next season. The same team that just beat Kobe Bryant’s Lakers on Tuesday. Maybe Pau Gasol will even rescind his trade demand and stick around.

What an inexcusable loss for the Lakers. The calendar is about to flip to April and the Lakers still shrink when they see a zone defense. Even though Memphis interim coach Tony Barone said afterward, “We don’t like to play zone,” he hardly could have stumbled onto a better strategy.

Earlier this season, Lakers coach Phil Jackson dismissed the zone as being a “soft” defense. Now his team has lost three games (Detroit, Milwaukee and Memphis) where the opposing team has played zone the bulk of the time. It has been easier said than done for the Lakers to create penetration, move the ball and get inside against it.

The Lakers had all of six – - yes, six – - points in the paint in the second half. They took 19 3-pointers in the third and fourth quarters. Jackson said the Lakers went over how they would play against a zone at the morning shootaround. Of course, that was with Kwame Brown on the floor instead of the trainer’s room.

It takes a discipline to break a zone that the Lakers don’t have. They missed Brown’s interior passing, as Jackson cited after the game. They also missed having Vladimir Radmanovic to rain 3-pointers and force the Grizzlies out of that zone. Radmanovic separated his shoulder in a snowboarding accident over All-Star weekend.

Odom was asked why the Lakers struggle so much with a zone. They have used the zone here and there at times this season, usually springing it on teams coming out of timeouts, but they never have committed to using it for long stretches the way some other teams do.

“Most NBA teams do (struggle),” Odom said. “When you’re playing against a zone, you have to lock down on the other end. Usually teams that play zone, they get real comfortable offensively. Why? Because they don’t have to play man-to-man defense.”

Barone said of Bryant’s 7-of-26 shooting night: “We didn’t limit Kobe. What happens is Kobe limits his points depending on the number of shots he takes and we didn’t do anything special. . . .I think when you start doing special stuff, which we tried the last game we played them, he’ll tear you apart.”

Jackson dismissed the idea of teams tanking games to improve lottery position beforehand. He can always point to Tuesday’s loss whenever he’s asked about that topic again. The Grizzlies put a lineup of no-names on the floor and dispatched the Lakers when they had every incentive to lose.

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All those hours on the 405 going to the Summer Pro League seemed worth it when Tarence Kinsey and Junior Harrington both started for the Grizzlies. Both played in Long Beach last summer and went on to make the Memphis roster. They also came through with big nights against the Lakers, a tribute to undrafted players everywhere.

Kinsey finished with 24 points, hit the go-ahead 3-pointer and had to have the thrill of his life – - his bio lists his favorite player as Bryant. Harrington played all 48 minutes and 13 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Bonus points if you can name which player went to South Carolina and which to Wingate.

* * *

Jackson was disappointed with how Andrew Bynum responded when he was thrust into the starting lineup at the last minute when Kwame Brown was unable to go on his sprained ankle. Odom threw a sweet behind-the-back pass but Bynum was unable to finish around the basket in the opening minutes. He made just 2 of 7 shots overall.

For the second consecutive game, Ronny Turiaf played all the fourth-quarter minutes. Turiaf made a number of big plays in Sunday’s victory over Golden State but missed both shots he took and had three fouls Tuesday. He’s your crunch-time center, though, until further notice.

* * *

The Lakers shot just 11 free throws and Jackson couldn’t resist a swipe at the referee crew of Joe Crawford, Marc Davis and Gary Zielinski, saying, “Pretty low on that end of the stick. I don’t know if there wasn’t any fouling going on tonight or if it was just one of those nights, one of those crews that said, `We’re not going to call any fouls,” so they didn’t.”

Sasha Vujacic had a nice run in last season’s playoffs and the pressure’s on for him to start making shots. He went 3 of 8 from 3-point range Tuesday but missed two midway through the fourth quarter. The Grizzlies took advantage, with Rudy Gay running out for a dunk and a 79-74 lead after the second one.

Vujacic did come back and drill a 3-pointer with Smush Parker waiting at the scorer’s table to replace him. Parker missed all four 3-pointers he took in the fourth quarter, including what could have been the game-winner in the final seconds.

* * *

We’ll see if Gasol faces any action from the league office after flailing his arm and hitting Bryant in the face in the second quarter. Bryant had slapped the ball out of Gasol’s hands from behind when Gasol swung his left arm and caught Bryant square. Bryant, who stayed in the game, was twice suspended for plays like that earlier this season.

* * *

The only other team to lose to Memphis twice this season is Charlotte. The Bobcats swept both games from the Lakers this season. Bryant said the same thing about the Grizzlies as he did about Charlotte earlier this season: “Thank God they’re not in the playoffs.”

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

Never in the three seasons since the Shaquille ONeal trade have the Lakers been able to stretch a winning streak past five games. All that stood in their way Tuesday night was a game against a Memphis Grizzlies team counting the days to the draft lottery.

Even that was too tall an order, though, as the Lakers were snapped back to reality in an inexplicable 88-86 loss to the Grizzlies, who brought the NBAs worst record (17-54) to Staples Center and were playing without two injured starters.

Only five days after he ripped the Grizzlies for 60 points, the fourth-highest scoring game of his career, Kobe Bryant didnt even come close to another milestone number. He finished with 23 points and made just 7 of 26 shots.

“It was just one of those games we couldnt get our rhythm, Bryant said. “Everybody has games like that and we had one tonight.

Bryant finished the game flat on his back, his turnaround jumper with a chance to tie in the final seconds having been swatted by Pau Gasol. Worse than that, the Lakers were stopped dead in their tracks of what had been a compelling playoff push.

“We can set ourself up either to play a seven-game series or get swept, forward Lamar Odom said. “If we go out there and play like that, its easy to get swept by good teams. If we go out and play the way we know we can play, we can push any team to seven games.

After giving back what had been a 15-point lead in the first half, the Lakers still had a chance to win on the final possession. Hakim Warrick split a pair of free throws and Lakers coach Phil Jackson diagrammed a final play for Smush Parker, not Bryant.

But Parker came up short on an open 3-pointer from the corner. The rebound bounced right to Bryant, who had his turnaround jumper blocked by Gasol with 1.9 seconds left and time expired on the Lakers five-game winning streak.

So did Bryants run of putting up numbers not seen since the days of Wilt Chamberlain. The Lakers had an early clue that things would be different when Bryant stepped to the line and clanked two free throws to start Tuesday’s game.

Bryant had been averaging 53.6 points and shooting the lights out the last five games. But the Grizzlies dug in with a zone defense and swarmed Bryant with defenders every time he touched the ball.

“It really was not a very good game, Jackson said, “but Kobes due to have a game where shots didnt go down and he wasnt shooting the ball well. Those odds are going to function a little bit in that regard.

The result? Bryant was outscored 24-23 by undrafted rookie Tarence Kinsey. The Grizzlies, hoping to win the rights to draft Greg Oden or Kevin Durant, were playing Tuesday without Mike Miller and Damon Stoudamire, both out with knee tendinitis.

The Lakers blew a chance to move three games ahead of Denver in the standings and solidify their hold on sixth place. Instead, they showed that they were not above a loss to a Memphis team that has not won consecutive games all season.

They also learned only seven minutes before introductions that center Kwame Brown could not get his sprained left ankle in shape to play. Andrew Bynum started in his place but Jackson said the 19-year-old center wasnt up to the task.

The Lakers also had no answers for the zone Memphis played, scoring just 14 points and making 5 of 23 shots in the third quarter. Bryant missed all six shots he took in the quarter as the Grizzlies took a 68-63 lead into the fourth.

“At some point, I felt like the team was relying on Kobe to do all the scoring, Jackson said, “and nobody could pick it up once they kind of figured he wasnt going to make shots.

As much as the fast start gave them false hope, the Lakers still had numerous chances to win late. Odom and Ronny Turiaf both had shots blocked in the last 3 1-2 minutes. Odom split two free throws and had a rebound bounce off his hands and out of bounds.

Luke Walton knocked down a 3-pointer to tie the score at 81-81 but Kinsey answered with a 3 at the other end. It proved to be the go-ahead shot after Odom missed a 3 of his own, leaving him 0 for 15 from long range since returning from a shoulder injury.

Odom filled up the box score with 16 rebounds and 11 assists but made just 1 of 7 shots and scored only three points. Jackson said afterward that Odom was willing to do all the other things but wasnt looking for his shot.

Parker missed a 3-pointer with 13.9 seconds left and a chance to tie – - the Lakers were 13 of 35 from beyond the arc – - and Kinsey hit two free throws to give Memphis an 86-81 lead and enough cushion to hold on.

It was the Lakers second loss to Memphis this season. Only Charlotte has suffered the same indignity.

“We wont sleep too well tonight, Bryant said. “But you have to use that as motivation and just gear up and get ready for the next one.

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