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It began as a mandate from the MEM' highest perch -- owner Michael Heisley -- to end the matador style of defense.

It continued with the hiring of a specialist, assistant coach Kevin O'Neill, and with roster changes.

Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

Griz rookie Marc Gasol pressures Houston's Yao Ming in a show of the team's improved defense.

"We actually want to play defense," rookie center Marc Gasol said flatly when asked the difference between this team and the Griz squad that turned in embarrassing performances on that end of the court a year ago.

"You're not always going to make shots," Gasol continued. "But you can play defense every game."

The MEM (2-2) embark on a four-game road trip that begins tonight at Sacramento (0-4) before winding through Golden State, Denver and .

They're packing a brick wall, too.

Memphis is holding opponents to just 85.3 points per game on 37.5 percent shooting, which ranks second in the NBA. Last season, the Griz surrendered 106.9 points (28th) on 48-percent shooting (30th).

In holding each of its opponents to less than 100 points to start this season, Memphis already surpassed the longest such stretch from the 2007-08 campaign. The MEM only went three consecutive games (Dec. 19-22) holding opponents to fewer than 100 points.

"We've come in from preseason and training camp and said we're going to be a tough, defensive-minded team," fourth-year forward Hakim Warrick said. "We've stuck with it. Even in practice you can see it. Our offense really struggles. We get up into each other with intensity."

Say this much for the Griz: They're scrappy. Memphis isn't hounding teams into a bunch of turnovers, but personal pride and a grasp of team schemes has translated into "no open shots," according to reserve point guard Kyle Lowry.

"We understand what we need to do that night, and we're executing," rookie guard O.J. Mayo said. "It's all five guys who are playing at that time really taking a lot of pride in our defense. A lot of our practices are usually talking about defense. We're just trying to bring that to the game."

Through three games, the Griz allowed opponents to shoot 35 percent of 3-pointers. Memphis then harassed a high-octane Golden State squad into 3-for-20 shooting from beyond the arc Monday during a 90-79 victory.

The Warriors' final point total was also 26 points less than their season average.

"They were very solid defensively," Warriors coach Don Nelson said. "(Marc) Iavaroni has done a marvelous job with this young team. They play hard. They play for 48 minutes. We weren't up to the task."

Part of the MEM' success without the basketball can be traced to their improved team rebounding. That's due, in large part, to a pair of rookies -- Gasol (10.3 rebounds) and Darrell Arthur (7.8) rank first and third, respectively, among all first-year players in that category.

"We're not scoring like we know we can but defense comes first for us," Mike Conley said. "We've really emphasized it. We don't care if we score 82 points a game so long as the other team is scoring 80. That's a big deal for us."

Different year.

Different attitude.

Different results.

"It starts individually when you know you're not going to let your man score," Conley said. "Then when the ball is passed it's about the team. We're really honing in on the scouting reports and paying attention to what needs to be done. It's helping us stay close in these games and win some."


 


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