Kobe Bryant hasn't been to the FedEx Forum in more than nine months, but surely he remembers his last visit well.
Playing on the road for the first time in more than two weeks, Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers face the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday night for the first time since he scored 60 points in a game there last season.
On March 22, Bryant's fourth career game with at least 60 points lifted the Lakers to a 121-119 win. He shot 20-of-37 from the floor and 17-of-18 from the free throw line just six days after scoring 65 at home in a win over Portland.
Bryant hasn't scored more than 45 in a game this season, and he's averaging 26.7 - nearly five points fewer than last season's average. But the Lakers, who finished 42-40 last season and were eliminated by Phoenix in the first round of the playoffs, appear to be a better team.
They enter this game having won 12 of 15, including five of seven on the road. They haven't left Staples Center since Dec. 23, and are coming off a 112-96 win there against Indiana on Sunday.
Against the Pacers, Bryant had 26 points and Andrew Bynum added 23 on 8-of-11 shooting with 13 rebounds. The emergence of the 7-foot Bynum, who averages 12.8 points and 10.1 rebounds, has been a major reason for the Lakers' resurgence.
"Andrew's playing great," forward Lamar Odom said. "He's dominating the inside and moving the ball and everyone's getting the ball. It's fun to play like that."
Fun has been rare for the Grizzlies (10-23) this season, but they've won two of three this month after losing their last five games in December.
They beat Miami 101-94 at home on Sunday, closing on a 9-2 run. Pau Gasol had 28 points and 13 rebounds for Memphis, which had lost three straight and seven of eight at home coming in.
"That's a big difference for us, when it comes down to the end of the game to make plays and make sure we get the win at home," Gasol said.
Mike Miller added 25 points and Rudy Gay had 22, his third straight game with at least 20. Gay leads the Grizzlies with 19.4 points per game this season, more than eight points better than his 2006-07 rookie season average.
The Grizzlies and Lakers split four meetings last season, including two in Tennessee. Memphis won the most recent meeting in Los Angeles five days after Bryant's 60-point game, getting 24 points from Tarence Kinsey and 20 from Gay in an 88-86 victory.
This is also the first game between the teams without Jerry West actively involved on one side. The Hall of Famer spent more than 20 seasons as Los Angeles' general manager before taking over as president of the Grizzlies in 2002.
West left Memphis last season after the Grizzlies finished an NBA-worst 22-60, and was rumored to be joining the Lakers after Bryant demanded his hiring, but he remains retired.
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