MEMPHIS, Tenn. — It wasn’t exactly a pouring rain that greeted the Lakers’ plane as it touched down here in Memphis late Saturday night, merely a bitter cold snap in the Mid-South.
The sunshine of Florida, from whence they came, might have felt good, but it hadn’t translated into any victories. And so they flew north, hoping a game against the young Memphis Grizzlies might send their their fortunes in the same direction.
It didn’t have to be melodic, or methodic, any win would do. Which is exactly what they got in a rather ho-hum 105-96 win over the Grizzlies at the FedEx Forum Monday night.
“Winning games in this league, some nights it’s easier than others and other nights you really have to work hard to do it,” Lakers guard Derek Fisher said. “ So we’re not ashamed of winning this one at all.
“We feel good about it and we’d like to be able to finish this trip off with another one tommorrow night (against New Orleans).”
After losing the first to games of this four-game trip when their shots at the end of games rattled around and rimmed out, the Lakers finally sunk one Monday night as Kobe Bryant’s 3-pointer with 34.8 seconds gave the Lakers a 99-96 lead they would not relinquish.
“It felt good, like a nice put,” said Bryant, who finished with a game-high 36 points on 14-of-23 shooting.
Judging from his reaction, it also felt pretty good when he threw down an emphatic dunk off a fast break as time expired. In terms of the score, it was wholly unnecessary. In terms of his psyche after this rough patch of the season …
“Anytime you have a moment to kind of release yourself, it’s good,” Bryant said with a wink.
A few minutes earlier, Lamar Odom helped himself to the same squeeze ball, slamming home a pass from Trevor Ariza to cut Memphis’ lead down to 93-90.
Before the game, Odom had been the target of another stinging jab from Lakers coach Phil Jackson. With the news coming down a couple hours before tip-off that two doctors have recommended surgery for back-up point guard Jordan Farmar (torn meniscus), Jackson was asked whether Odom could handle some of the point-guard duties.
“Lamar hasn’t been able to do much of anything recently,” Jackson quipped. “He had a good game against New York (last Tuesday), but he’s struggled lately. I hope he gets on track tonight.”
Odom finished with 12 points and six rebounds on Monday. He was unaware of Jackson’s comments until after the game, so the dunk, he said, was just a dunk.
“Sometimes you need a dunk to get yourself going,” he said, making a growling noise. “Sometimes that’s what the dunk does, opens the rim up for you.”
For forward Pau Gasol, no such prodding was necessary. Monday night was the Spaniard’s first game back in Memphis since last February’s trade to the Lakers. It was also his first NBA game against his younger brother Marc, who has gone from a throw-in to the deal to the Grizzlies starting center spot in the first two months of this season.
Statistically and in the standings, Pau won this round. Older brother Pau finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and six assists while younger brother Marc had eight points, seven rebounds and an unsightly five turnovers.
The smattering of boos which greeted Pau in his first few minutes back on the court here were mostly drowned out by a chorus of cheers. And when the Grizzlies showed a video tribute to their all-time leading scorer and first-ever all-star, most of the 17,456 in attendance stood and cheered.
“It was weird at first to be on the floor as an opponent,” Gasol said after the game. “It was really nice that the Grizzlies put that video together. It was a very nice gesture and I truly appreciate it.”
Rudy Gay had 23 points to lead Memphis, but only seven of those came in the second half as the Lakers switched Bryant and Arize onto him defensively. He also committed a costly turnover at the end of the game which helped the Lakers seal the victory.
Former USC star O.J. Mayo had 22 points and six assists, drawing raves from some of the Lakers.
“I think he’s terrific,” Bryant said. “He has a great work ethic and great all-around skill. …He has the total package. I don’t have any doubt he will be a star in this league.”