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Stout defense boosts Grizzlies' strong start

January 24th, 2013 1:40 pm by Associated Press

Stout defense boosts Grizzlies' strong start

The Grizzlies' Rudy Gay, left, and the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant (24) battle for a loose ball during first half of their game in Memphis on Wednesday, Jan. 23. (AP Photo)

MEMPHIS — The Grizzlies, the team that turned in the NBA's best start this season, is busy learning how to deal with success.


Sure, Memphis has been a good team reaching the playoffs the previous two seasons and even played in the Western Conference semifinals in 2011. The Grizzlies followed that up with their best winning percentage in last year's lockout-shortened season.


But that sizzling 12-2 start ratcheted up expectations enough that not even the Grizzlies' best record through 41 games and fourth in the West seems to be enough now.


"I think for certain outside the team, but somewhat inside the team as well," Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said of the expectations. "I've had conversations with our group to remember who we are, when we were fortunate to get off to a good start and everyone was ranting and raving. But we're still the same team. We struggle to shoot at times and struggle to score at times."


That the Grizzlies certainly do.


They beat the Lakers 106-93 on Wednesday night, just the 12th time they've scored at least 100 points this season and eight of those came during the 12-2 start. The good thing is their defense is so good that they are undefeated in those games because the Grizzlies rank second in the NBA giving up an average of 89.5 points per game.


Memphis now has held 37 of 41 opponents under 100 points this season, best in the NBA. That puts the Grizzlies on target to become the first team to hold opponents to a scoring average below 90 points per game over a season since 2005-06 when they did it (88.5) along with the San Antonio Spurs (88.8).


The Grizzlies also rank second in the NBA averaging 9.2 steals per game and forcing 16.2 turnovers per game.


Offensively is where they've been challenged most. They went into the game with the Lakers ranked 28th in the league averaging 92.9 points per game and just went through a six-game stretch where they didn't score more than 85 points in any of those games.


Center Marc Gasol said the challenge is teams know what the Grizzlies like to do with offensively getting the ball down low to himself and Zach Randolph, who has an NBA-best 27 double-doubles averaging 16.1 points and 11.6 rebounds, or over to Rudy Gay.


"We just have to play through it and find the other side of the court, move the ball better and get moving," Gasol said.


Point guard Mike Conley said the Grizzlies have faced an adjustment since that strong start.


"Not a lot of people thought we would start as quickly as we did, and now teams give us 110 percent effort every night regardless of who we're playing," Conley said. "They're scheming us and trying to do different things to try to knock us off balance. We've tried to learn to play against it, and we're still learning. It's all new for us. We haven't started off this quickly and this well I think in history, so it's new territory for us, and we're still learning."


The Grizzlies are three wins better through 41 games than ever before for this franchise. With 10 games left to the All-Star break, they are on target to top the 30-22 mark in 2003-04 that currently is the team's best at that point in a season.


Gay, averaging a team-best 17.3 points per game, has been the topic of trade rumors for weeks. He's not talking about that speculation and said the Grizzlies are looking to build as much momentum and consistency as they can heading into the All-Star break.


"We really need guys to pick it up and play hard ... and kind of get on a groove going into the break," Gay said.


What remains to be seen is how much Tuesday's trade helps Memphis. The Grizzlies avoided paying $4 million in luxury tax and got $2.4 million below the threshold by trading Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington and Josh Selby to Cleveland.


Fans in Memphis are split on the trade. Many see the team's new owners giving up on the Grizzlies while others hope avoiding the luxury tax this season may keep those starters together for one more postseason run.


General manager Chris Wallace said only the move gives Memphis enough flexibility including trade exceptions that the team doesn't have to make a move by the trade deadline Feb. 21.


The Grizzlies host the Brooklyn Nets on Friday night in the third of a four-game home stand looking to build on their big win over the Lakers.


"If we build in the right direction and keep getting better, this team can be very good," Conley said.

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