Memphis center Marc Gasol tries to keep possession of his dribble as Lakers… (Mike Brown / EPA )
Reporting from Memphis, Tenn. — Momentum hasn't really been a part of the Lakers' season, often opting to lag a few paces back instead of accepting a ride alongside the two-time defending champions.
But finally in February, the Lakers might be onto something.
Their defense has risen, their demeanor has improved, and was that the look of a revived champion in the first two games of a telling trip?
The Lakers beat the Memphis Grizzlies, 93-84, winning the fourth quarter Monday at FedEx Forum and also shooting up a few flares of aggression, almost all from the holster of Ron Artest but one or two from mild-mannered Lamar Odom.
The Lakers are starting to own the fourth quarter and make statements with their defense, words that often follow the definition of a champion.
They held Memphis to 16 points on seven-for-21 shooting in the fourth quarter two days after limiting the New Orleans Hornets to 13 points in the final 12 minutes of a 101-95 victory.
"A lot of times it's ugly basketball, but it's pretty in June," Kobe Bryant said.
The real test of the seven-game trip comes Thursday in Boston, but the Lakers (36-16) were happy to hold Zach Randolph to two-for-14 shooting and Marc Gasol to five-for-14 shooting.
There was even a bout with drama when Artest was hit in the face by Gasol after ripping the ball away from the Grizzlies center in the third quarter.
Artest ran to the other side of the court and clutched his face. He thought he had sustained a broken nose, and it looked slightly off center, but there was no official break, the team said.
Artest, who had 13 points and four steals, checked back into the game after a timeout, but not without giving Gasol a hard look while walking to the bench.
"You do what it takes to win," Artest said.
This being the Lakers, though, there were some areas of concern.
They made only 21 of 35 free throws (60%) and Bryant was far from flawless, totaling six turnovers and making only six of 17 shots on the way to 19 points.
In fact, the Lakers barely led, 78-76, near the midpoint of the fourth quarter before Odom and Artest hit consecutive three-point shots, pushing them to an 11-0 run.
Odom had 15 points and 11 rebounds, and was particularly demonstrative after making his big shot, yelling at his own bench.
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson smiled. It was a rare outburst from Odom.
"I finally called a number for him, so then he was saying, 'That's right, you should be calling that number more often,'" Jackson said.
There was even a touch of L.A. in the air, rapper Snoop Dogg taking in the game from a courtside seat by the Lakers' bench before performing at a nearby venue. He could have taught a course on celebrity behavior, spending the entire halftime signing autographs and patiently posing for pictures as dozens of fans lined up in front of his seat, but he wasn't there for the fourth quarter, leaving the Lakers to describe it for him.
"We did a good job of contesting shots, putting bodies on bodies and not allowing free looks," said Pau Gasol, who had 17 points and nine rebounds.
Marc Gasol made only one of five shots in the final quarter, Mike Conley was one for four and Randolph missed both of his attempts.
Perhaps Jackson said it best: "That's what a good team does — they learn how to lock a team down and come out in the fourth quarter and play defense."