MEMPHIS, Tenn. – A day off and a cross-country trip accomplished little in solving the Lakers’ problems.
They still look slow. They still can’t defend. Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol still pulled disappearing acts.The Lakers’ 106-98 loss Friday to the Memphis Grizzlies here at FedEx Forum reflected a mirror image of the team’s double-digit defeat Wednesday to Sacramento.
The effort bothered Kobe Bryant so much that he walked off the court seconds before the game ended. Gasol’s play, a six point effort on three of eight shooting and four rebounds, irked Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni so much that he benched him for the entire fourth quarter.
“I was thinking,” D’Antoni said, ‘Well I’d like to win this game.’”
D’Antoni sat Gasol and limited Jordan Hill to only four minutes in favor of a surprising Antawn Jamison, who scored a season-high 16 points off the bench. But that became a mere footnote in an otherwise ugly performance that resulted in the Lakers’ (6-7) losing two consecutive games and falling 1-2 under D’Antoni.
“That’s not my decision,” Gasol said of his benching. “I’m a professional. When my number is called, I’m out there. But it’s something that hasn’t happened to me.”
Gasol’s effort looked eerily similar to his three of 10 mark from the field against the Kings, a product of a faulty mid-range jumper and lacking confidence. After initially attacking the basket, Gasol took mid-range jumpers and then hesitated more on open shots as the game progressed. He shook his head in frustration after his pass toward Darius Morris went out of bounds. Gasol showed a similar reaction when he threw a lob to Howard in the third quarter only to be called for an offensive foul.
Gasol conceded his conditioning could improve under D’Antoni’s fast-paced offense, but suggested he could shorten up his rotations. Gasol also argued the Lakers could feature him better.
“All my looks are jump shots,” Gasol said. “I would like to see something to the basket and not just something rolling when Dwight is there.”
Bryant supported Gasol, saying, “If he feels like he needs to get some more touches, then we will.” But the Lakers’ frontline problems extend beyond Gasol.
Howard posted only seven points on two of seven shooting, a minor improvement from the seven points on four field-goal attempts he scored against Sacramento. Howard only defended when he fell into foul trouble (five). He committed five turnovers. Howard also appeared flustered anytime Memphis fronted the post or beat him on a defensive rotation.
“Me and Pau have got to be active. We might not get the ball as much as we want it, but we have to find ways to win,” Howard said. “We have to talk. We have to be big … Once we get going in the post, we’ll be good.”
Meanwhile, the Grizzlies’ grind-it-out and team-sharing mentality ensured all of their starters scored double figures, including Rudy Gay (21 points), Mike Conley (19 points), Zach Randolph (17 points), Marc Gasol (14 points) and Tony Allen (12 points). The Lakers hardly showed much perimeter defense, allowing Memphis to go six of 11 from the field. On top of that, Bryant had a rare off shooting night, posting 30 points albeit on seven of 23 shooting.
Oh, the Lakers showed bright spots. Metta World Peace (16 points on five of nine shooting) scored with more aggression than Howard and Gasol. The Lakers’ second unit chipped away at double-digit deficits in both the second and fourth quarter, including three consecutive three-pointers from Jodie Meeks and Chris Duhon to reduce Memphis’ lead to 88-82 with 9:07 remaining.
Still, Memphis matched up against the Lakers with as much aggression and speed as eager shoppers on Black Friday looking for a sale.
“We have to get in better shape,” D’Antoni said. “If they can’t run up and down and play quickly, then we’re going to have to find guys who can do it.”