Marc Gasol didn’t even hit double digits in points when Memphis saw the Los Angeles Lakers earlier this month, but the fulcrum of the Grizzlies’ offense kept the ball moving and got his teammates involved.
Lately, the ball’s been stopping with Gasol – and Memphis couldn’t be happier.
Coming off two of his highest-scoring games as a pro, Gasol and the Grizzlies take the NBA’s best record on the road Wednesday night as they kick off a four-game trip against the Lakers.
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Gasol has been the best player on the best team in the league, anchoring a defense that’s allowing the NBA’s third-fewest points (92.4 per game).
The surprise, though, has been Memphis’ offense – and the former Defensive Player of the Year’s part in it. After averaging no more than 14.6 points in his first six seasons, Gasol is at 19.9 after hitting the 30-point mark twice in as many games.
Coming into this season, he’d scored 30 once in 436 career contests.
"He’s very difficult to guard right now," coach Dave Joerger said after Gasol hit 13 of 18 shots in Sunday’s 107-91 win over the Clippers. "We’ve got to find places on the floor where he can get it and get it cleanly. We’re pretty good right now if we move the basketball and move ourselves, and let the defense have a chance to make a mistake."
Gasol has a Western Conference-leading 136 post-ups and leads the NBA by a wide margin in touches on the elbow (198), where the Grizzlies (12-2) like to run their offense through their big man. Though Memphis is in the middle of the pack in points per game (99.9), it’s scoring 106.0 per 100 possessions – the league’s sixth-most efficient offense.
The Grizzlies were 17th in offensive efficiency last season, though according to Gasol that improvement is a matter of familiarity on the other end paying off.
"Offensively, it’s going to come," he said. "Defensively, we build trust that carries into the offensive end."
Gasol only had eight points in a 107-102 win over the Lakers (3-11) on Nov. 11, but he had nine of Memphis’ 21 assists. The Grizzlies’ reserves outscored Los Angeles’ 38-14, and that started a trend.
Memphis has averaged 38.1 bench points in its last seven after putting up 20.4 in its first seven. Beno Udrih has averaged 10.2 points in that stretch on 59.1 percent shooting and Jon Leuer has put up 13.7 points per game in his last three.
The Lakers allow the most points in the league (111.6 per game), though on Sunday they bounced back with a far better defensive effort two nights after allowing 140 at Dallas.
Problem was, their offense failed them. Los Angeles held Denver to 37.8 percent shooting but shot 37.1 percent itself – missing 21 of 24 3s – in a 101-94 overtime loss.
"To me, we kind of felt a little flat, but we had some spurts where we had high energy and got into transition and stuff like that," said Kobe Bryant, who went 5 of 15 from the field in the second half and OT. "We’ve been playing better as of late, outside of the Dallas game."
Any good feelings the Lakers might have had disappeared Monday. Guard Xavier Henry, a former Grizzlies first-round pick, ruptured his Achilles in practice and will miss the rest of the season.
That’s the latest long-term injury for the Lakers, who also are dealing with a more minor one. Carlos Boozer, who fouled out with 20 points in the first game against the Grizzlies, missed Sunday’s contest with a strained left shoulder and is questionable Wednesday.
Memphis has won seven of the last eight meetings for which Gasol has been healthy.