In just his sixth game back from an Achilles injury, Kobe Bryant scored 20 points against the Grizzlies.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Usually-calm Memphis Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger was ruffled after this loss, a 96-92 setback Tuesday — at home — against the sub-.500 Los Angeles Lakers.
"Obviously when you lose … we’re winners here, hopefully," Grizzlies point guard Nick Calathes said. "Everyone wants to win and this team is expected to win."
Winning isn’t coming. Losses are piling up. That’s four straight to fall to 10-14, the first such streak since late January two years ago.
Joerger is usually in a smiling mood, win or lose. But injured or not, his team gave him little to smile about with the way it started the game. The Lakers (12-13) scored 34 points in the first quarter, a blistering 14-of-22 from the field.
"We cannot come out and wait, especially at home, and take a hit, letting teams feel good about shooting the basketball and getting loose balls and getting after us, instead of us getting after them," Joerger said. "They got the first blow. They were the aggressors."
Now the Grizzlies have a back-to-back, Wednesday in Dallas.
The injury news got no better against also-injured Los Angeles. Already indefinitely without center Marc Gasol (MCL sprain) and point guard Mike Conley out with a thigh bruise, forward Tayshaun Prince played only nine minutes and 9 seconds, leaving with an injury that Joerger didn’t yet know the extent of.
Prince left quietly. Mike Miller did not. Miller rolled his ankle — hideously — late in the fourth quarter and hobbled right toward the locker room. He stopped in the tunnel and was treated on the baseline, but did not return. And one look at the still shot of the injury doesn’t give Grizzlies fans a lot of hope that he will return anytime soon.
Memphis had a chance at the end, even after a 15-4 run broke a 69-all tie in the fourth quarter. But three points was as close as the Grizzlies got. Down 84-81, Jerryd Bayless’ steal was wasted on the break when Ed Davis lost the ball on his way to the rim.
"Sometimes we make a bonehead play or we just can’t make that play to just get over that hump," Calathes said.
Los Angeles has its own problems, no Steve Nash, Jordan Farmer or Steve Blake. Kobe Bryant is back, but still limping. Memphis turned out to be a good remedy for his repaired Achilles.
From the point, he matched his season-high in his six games back with 21 points. He also had five rebounds and four assists, shooting 50 percent from the field. His four turnovers were two less than he was averaging.
Players talked postgame about the good effort. Effort was questioned earlier this season.
"The effort? Obviously this team wants to win," Calathes said. "We’re going out there trying to win. I think we’re building steps, but we need to make it happen. We need to get some wins here."
The Grizzlies got five in double figures, led by Zach Randolph’s 18 and a season-high 16 boards. Tony Allen had a season-high 16 points and seven rebounds and five assists. Jon Leuer had 13 off the bench, his sixth straight double-figure game. Bayless had 13 in a starting place of Conley.
All that and Memphis still lost. Bryant and Pau Gasol owned the stretch. Gasol took advantage of Davis’ miscue with a hook shot that pushed the lead to five. Bryant hit a 28-footer with 2:39 left to give the Lakers a six-point lead.
And Nick Young scored 18 off the bench.
Maybe chalk some of that up to Memphis’ missing pieces. But at this point, the Grizzlies have to hope the replacement parts are at least getting better as the losses pile up and that when health returns — if it does — it’s not too late for a playoff run.
"We showed signs of being good and trying to get the win, but like I say, it’s a 48-minute game and we have to do it consistently," Allen said, "not in spurts. We don’t have any time for mishaps at this point."
Questions are already coming about who the Grizzlies need to beat to get one of the final playoff spots. Memphis is currently four games out of the eighth spot, seemingly far removed from chasing a home series last season.
"The West is tough," Young said. "If you lose, you can put somebody in eighth place. Everybody is well-balanced, except for Portland is doing great right now, OKC and San Antonio."
Joerger had settled in by the time his short press conference was over. By then, the questions — the same questions — were done.
"I’m getting warmed up now," Jeroger said. "I’m a little happier than when I walked in."
In the West, the Grizzlies are running out of time to warm up.