Updated: December 1, 2010, 10:50 AM ET

1. Rookie Henry At Center Of Grizzlies' Surge

By John Hollinger
ESPN.com

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Kobe Bryant against a 19-year-old rookie. Should be a piece of cake, right?

Not quite, because this is no ordinary teenager. Memphis' Xavier Henry checked the Lakers' superstar for most of Tuesday night with little help, and the result was a 9-of-25 shooting night for Kobe and a 98-96 win for the Memphis Grizzlies.

While he wasn't on the floor at the end for L.A.'s deja vu final possession -- for the second season in a row in Memphis, Kobe kicked out to Ron Artest for a 3-pointer that missed at the buzzer -- Henry was the protagonist during a stretch of 11 straight misses by Bryant midway through the game that allowed the Grizzlies to build a double-digit lead.

Henry wasn't getting double-team support, either. He was one-on-one against Bryant for much of the night and, thanks to his size and discipline, largely held his own. The effort was so good Henry's coach compared him to another player who has been known to limit Bryant.

"I remember when we interviewed [Henry] in Chicago," Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said, "and I went away saying, 'That's Shane Battier all over again.' He's poised, he's mature [and] he understands the big picture of what's going on. That's what you like to see in all your players coming into the league."

The rookie from Kansas is unusually strong for his age, making him one of the rare 2s who can match up with Bryant physically and prevent him from playing over the top of the defense.

"I tried to make it tough for him," Henry said, "being strong and pushing him out a little. I'm about his size, I weigh a little bit more and I can be just as strong with him."

Although Henry hasn't been scoring much -- he had only his third double-figure (12) game of the season Tuesday -- the Grizzlies have won four of five since he took over as the starting shooting guard and O.J. Mayo became the sixth man, with two-point wins over both the Heat and Lakers.

As a result, Memphis finds itself 8-10 despite a tough early-season schedule, and that's where we get to the really interesting part of Tuesday's game. As screwy as the Grizzlies have been over the past couple of seasons, they find themselves with a tremendous opportunity to take advantage of an opening in the Western Conference hierarchy.

With Portland and Houston wracked by injuries and Phoenix's roster denuded, suddenly it appears a team with a win total in the low 40s could grab the final playoff spot in the West.

A team like, say, Memphis.

The Grizzlies won 40 games last season and boast the same starting five plus a vastly improved bench -- Mayo is now the go-to scorer with the second group, rookie Greivis Vasquez has solidified a grievous weakness at backup point guard and Darrell Arthur has provided some quality frontcourt minutes.

Furthermore, making the postseason would be a big deal for a franchise still trying to gain traction in its 10th season on Beale Street; Tuesday night's game failed to sell out, and more fans were wearing Forum blue and gold than Grizzlies blue.

Last season's surprising win total was ultimately irrelevant because it took 50 wins to qualify for the playoffs in the Western Conference. This time, however, the same win total could produce far greater drama come April. And given the improvements from the bench and from Mike Conley (a season-high 28 points on 13 field goal attempts Tuesday), it's possible the Grizzlies could glide well past last season's 40-win haul and into the postseason.

"We haven't been anywhere yet," Hollins said. "We won 40 games last year, so how can we say we're a playoff team yet? Fans like to talk about that, certainly [the media likes] to talk about that, but we just have to play as hard as we can every night."

Improbably, a 19-year-old kid being groomed as a defensive stopper could be the vital piece in that mix. Henry, if he can continue his exploits from Tuesday, gives the first group an on-ball defender who doesn't need the rock and allows the second unit to have the scorer (Mayo) it so glaringly lacked last season.

"I'm young and I've got a lot to learn," Henry said, "but I'm doing the best I can."

For one night, at least, his best was good enough to stymie one of the best players in the world.

Dimes past: Nov. 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19-21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26-28 | 29 | 30

2. Lakers Not Panicking Amidst Three-Game Skid

By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com


MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- In the nearly three years since Pau Gasol joined the Los Angeles Lakers, the team has had only two three-game losing streaks -- last March and right now.

Memphis guard Mike Conley picked apart the Lakers' defense with the pick-and-roll to the tune of 28 points on 10-for-13 shooting in the Grizzlies' 98-96 win Tuesday, piggybacking on L.A.'s losses to Utah and Indiana last weekend.

"I think our pick-and-roll coverage down the stretch wasn't as good as it could have been," said Kobe Bryant in his first comments after the game. "You got to try to corral them and make them take some tough shots. … You got to try to stop their penetration and not let them get in the paint -- we got to do a better job at that."

Last season, in the midst of the Lakers' dropping three straight road games in Miami, Charlotte and Orlando, the team held a closed-door, air-it-out meeting to discuss -- what else -- pick-and-roll defense, and the conversation evolved into Bryant's challenging the team to ramp up its "determination" and "willfulness."

An overtime loss to the Heat followed by a 15-point drubbing by the Bobcats, after the Lakers had already played 60 games, spurred last season's meeting. Three straight losses by a total of 11 points after the first 15 games of the 2010-11 season isn't cause for dismay or even extensive discussion, but rather discovery.

"We're not going to have a team meeting or anything like that, but we need to focus," Bryant said. "We need to get ready. It's a nice challenge to have this early in the season."

Gasol remembers the low point of last season all too well. When I mentioned the three-game losing streak against "Charlotte, Orlando and I can't recall the other team," Gasol filled in my memory by firmly saying, "Miami."

"It gets us in an earlier point in the year than it did last year," Gasol said. "They're losses that shouldn't happen, but they did and we have to look ourselves in the mirror and understand, 'Why? Why did it happen and what are we willing to do in order to stop that?'"

One way to make it stop? Start stopping opposing guards from running roughshod through the lane off the pick-and-roll.

ESPNLosAngeles Lakers reporter Dave McMenamin is a regular contributor to the Daily Dime.

3. Daily Dime Live Recap

Flash back to all of Tuesday night's NBA action:

4. Stat Check: Grizzlies Fluster Bryant, Lakers

By ESPN Stats & Information
NAME
Bryant

The Los Angeles Lakers might have to learn that a little less Kobe Bryant may go a long way this season.

On Tuesday, Bryant scored 29 points but it took him 25 shots to get there in a 98-96 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. During the Lakers' current three-game losing streak, Bryant has attempted at least 20 shots in each game and has averaged 26.3 field goal attempts per game.

This season, the Lakers are 2-3 when Bryant attempts at least 25 shots in a game, compared to 11-2 when he attempts fewer than 25 shots.

Click here to read more stats on Tuesday night's games at TrueHoop.

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