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Lakers 85, Grizzlies 104: Joe Smith's Debut Is Forever Tarnished

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Perhaps the world shouldn't be overly impressed with the Miami Heat's blowout victory at Staples Center on Christmas Day. Apparently, hammering the champs in their own building is something anyone can do. Doesn't matter if it's a title contender, a sub-0.500 lottery team or a traveling junior-high AAU squad. If you're in the market for a road win - maybe something with a margin of victory, say, in the high teens? - well, come on down to Figueroa Street and take advantage of our special holiday rates. The Lakers these days are nothing if not hospitable.

Tonight's guests, the perpetually rebuilding Memphis Grizzlies, would no doubt be happy to keep playing in Los Angeles for as long as the Lakers will have them. They humiliated the purp and yellow this evening in a 104 to 85 walkover. It's their second win over the Lakers this season and the champs' third home loss by 16 or more points. And the Grizzlies, to put the event in an appropriately embarrassing context, played in Utah and traveled over 600 miles last night, though you'd have no idea from the way this one unfolded.

Memphis outscored the Lakers in each of the four quarters. They built up a five-point lead at the end of the first period by forcing a load of turnovers and keeping the Lake Show off the offensive glass. Rudy Gay, who was excellent all night long, scored 10 points in the first to go along with nine from Zach Randolph. The Lakers got some nice early scoring from Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, but a series of empty trips toward the end of the quarter allowed the Grizz to finish on a 10 to 3 run.

Though L.A. briefly regained the lead at the start of the second behind three-pointers from Steve Blake and Shannon Brown, the Memphis bench responded with another tear, this one of the 15 to 6 persuasion. Darrell Arthur contributed five points and a couple offensive boards in this stretch. O.J. Mayo chipped in seven. Meanwhile, Pau went cold and took the Laker attack with him. Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher reentered the fray and hit a couple jumpers to whittle the lead back down to one, but once more the offense fell to pieces at the close of the quarter. Messy passing, ill-considered attempts from distance, no one chasing down offensive boards... Gay and Randolph exploited the opportunity to rebuild the Memphis lead to 48 to 39 at the break. The Laker attack was a disaster in the first half: they shot the ball OK but committed 10 turnovers in 44 possessions, pulled in just one offensive board and scored a cool zero second-chance points.

When the third period began, Kobe decided to take it upon himself to conjure up some pointage. And it worked for a bit. In the first six-and-a-half minutes after halftime, he poured in 13, which cut the Memphis lead down to a deuce. The Grizzlies responded, however, by kicking their own offense into a higher gear. They carved up the Lakers with quick, intelligent ball movement both in halfcourt sets and in transition. The Laker D was slow to rotate underneath or find shooters on the perimeter. The Memphis attack was a paragon of balance: in the third period alone, all five of their starters plus Mayo scored at least four points each. The Lakers had no hope of keeping up, and by the end of the third the lead was up to 17. As you might infer from the fact that Luke Walton, Joe Smith and Derrick Caracter all got into the game for five minutes, the fourth was wall-to-wall garbage time.

I guess this is just how the season is going to be: littered with out-of-nowhere losses to inferior squads. The Lakers have already chalked up 11 L's, we're barely 40% into the schedule, and the most difficult patches still lie ahead. After a game like tonight's, everyone will talk about the Lakers' effort - or their intensity or complacency or whatever other abstract noun you want to reach for - because that's the default explanation for whenever this team loses. I honestly don't think tonight's catastrophe fits that hypothesis, though.

Interpreting a team's effort level is a subjective challenge, but to my view at least, until the lead got out of hand late in the third I thought the Lakes had decent energy. Kobe was certainly trying. Pau and Lamar were (at the outset) working to get good shots. Andrew Bynum was a Mutombo-like scary monster on D in the first half. Fish was... doing... Fish... things? I guess? Look, I'm not saying they were busting ass like it was Game Seven, just that they were playing reasonably hard for a while. They just weren't playing well or especially smart.

The turnovers were a major problem all night long. Guys were constantly trying to force the ball into traffic. The defense held up all right for a quarter, but once Memphis got its transition game going, the Lakers appeared incapable of keeping pace. The Grizzlies looked like the young, athletic team they are, and the champs looked like the old-ass team they are. Gay, who finished with 27 points, not only shook free of Ron Artest time and again but made it look like it wasn't that difficult.

Memphis played a very sound team game. They spaced the floor really well on O, they pushed the rock in transition whenever they could, they plundered the Lakers' passing lanes and they were incredibly strong on the defensive glass. (The champs' six offensive rebounds tonight were a season low, and they don't shoot the ball nearly well enough to make up for that.) These days, the Lakers aren't good enough to impose their will on an opponent that's playing so sharp.

So the slide continues: the Utah Jazz have now tied the Lakers for third-best record in the West. Next up are the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday. Don't worry: they're way below 0.500 and will be playing on the second night of a back-to-back set. What could possibly go wrong?











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Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.