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Lakers 93, Grizzlies 84: Next Stop, Boston

So far, so good on this little thing they call the Grammy trip. Two contests into their seven-game swing east of the Mississippi, the Lakers have yet to show any ill effects from being away from home. On Saturday they easily swatted away the Hornets. Tonight they visited FedEx Forum in Memphis for a date with the Grizzlies and left with a 93 to 84 victory under their belts. Perhaps a change of scenery is just what the champs needed.

Unless you're a connoisseur of unforced turnovers, should such a species even exist, tonight's win isn't one to stash away on your DVR and rewatch over the summer. Neither team ever got into a flow offensively. There were a lot of passes to nowhere and, for a game not taking place in a YMCA league for 8-to-10 year olds, a surprising number of airballs. Both sides were grumpy with the refs, and stoppages caused by minor owies to Ron Artest and Rudy Gay contributed to the overall sense of a night lacking in rhythm. As Laker fans well know, however, any visit to Memphis that doesn't include a loss or a crippling injury to Andrew Bynum counts as successful.

Huzzah huzzah for an ace performance by the Laker D. After letting the Grizz take an early nine-point lead, they buckled down and applied themselves to the task of pressuring man and ball. Memphis struggled to score over the final three periods and for the night scrounged up a lowly 0.93 points per possession. Laker guards and small forwards combined for 11 steals. The bigs actively challenged shots in the paint. The Grizzlies converted on only 40% of their two-point shots, and leading scorer Zach Randolph scored eight points on 2-for-14 shooting. Memphis did provide some unsolicited help by honking a bunch of point-blank looks, but you know, that's the kind of luck that flows from a commitment to harrassing opposing shooters. Even when a defender isn't in the immediate vicinity, ghosts appear out of the corner of one's eye to disrupt concentration.

The Laker offensive machine wasn't quite operating at peak efficiency tonight: just 1.04 points per trip, well below their season-long rate. As the game wore on, the champs passed the ball with steadily decreasing precision, leading to 14 turnovers in 89 possessions. An off-his-game Kobe Bryant accounted for six of the miscues. Equally vexing were struggles at the free-throw line on the part of the big men. The Lakers attempted 35 free throws, which is excellent, but missed 14 of them, which is not. Not since their meltdown against Milwaukee on December 21st have the Lakers performed so ineptly at the stripe.

What made up for their free-throw hijinks was some unusually sharp shooting from beyond the arc. The Lakers made half of their 16 three-point attempts, led by Ron Artest (3 for 6) and Derek Fisher (2 for 3). As well, some solid work got done on the offensive glass. In the second and third periods the champs chased down 50% of their own misses and scored nine second-chance points. Lamar Odom, who had five offensive boards in this one, was critical in extending possessions.

It was nice to see Pau Gasol continue to emerge from his recent funk. He shot 6 for 11 and scored 17 but, just as important, looked engaged and energetic at both ends of the floor. He and the rest of the squad now have a few days to gird themselves for what might be the most difficult five-day stretch of the season. Starting Thursday, the Lakers play in Boston and New York on consecutive nights, and then after a day off hit up another back-to-back in Orlando and Charlotte. Not one of those games is a gimme win. Frankly, going 3-1 would have to be considered an impressive feat. A 4-0 sweep, however unlikely, would be a season-changing Great Leap Forward.

Please forgive the short recap tonight, kiddos. I'm heading out of town for a few days and have to get my ass on the open road. If there are any crucial observations about this game that I've failed to make, I trust you'll proffer them in the comments.

The Lakers are now 36-16. Just 30 contests remain in the regular season.











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