Editor's note: ESPN.com senior NBA writer Marc Stein supplies each item for this weekly around-the-league notebook edition of the Dime.
SPECIAL WEEKEND EDITION
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Pau Gasol says experience, veteran teammates and a productive summer -- not the beard -- are his keys to his success.
Marc Stein talks with Memphis power forward Pau Gasol.
1. STEIN: I'm sure you're sick of the question, but everyone's talking about your beard and how you're playing a more physical game now. Is that really the difference?
GASOL: No. The difference is that I have four years of experience. I signed a big contract last year and I feel like I have much more responsibility. It's not me being different.
2. STEIN: OK. What about your three new veteran teammates? What kind of lift have you gotten playing with Eddie Jones, Damon Stoudamire and Bobby Jackson?
GASOL: That makes a big difference. We got three veterans who are really helping us. It's more experience than we've ever had. They're true professionals.
3. STEIN: How much more chaotic was the locker room with Bonzi Wells and Jason Williams?
GASOL: I want to focus on this year. We've got a lot of pieces that fit us perfectly.
4. STEIN: You didn't play for the Spanish national team last summer. How much fresher do you feel?
GASOL: Hopefully it'll make a difference as far as injuries and energy and fatigue. I took off a little longer than usual, but not being with the national team also gave me the chance to work more on my game and in the weight room. Everywhere I was, I got my workout in. I think it helped me mentally to be more ready for the season.
5. STEIN: The Grizzlies have never had an All-Star. Will you be the first in February?
GASOL: It would mean a lot, definitely, but I really don't want to put a lot of thought into it because I want to focus on every game and keep playing like I'm playing. But I know it would make a lot of people happy in Memphis.
There is one avenue available to the Rockets for creating a salary slot above the veteran minimum to offer Latrell Sprewell or any other potential free-agent help. With Bobby Sura out indefinitely after back and knee surgeries, Houston would be eligible to apply for an injury exception worth half of Sura's salary -- just under $1.8 million -- if Sura is deemed to be out for the season.
Rockets GM Carroll Dawson, however, said Friday that the club isn't ready to rule the 32-year-old out for good. Sura's back is recovering faster than his knees at last report, but a more definitive reading on the likelihood of a return this season isn't expected until early January.
It also must be pointed out that even a one-year offer at $1.8 million still isn't enough to tempt Sprewell, whose agent -- with no evidence to suggest he can get this -- says he's holding out for a multiyear deal that starts closer to $5 million. ...
After Pau Gasol's beard and the good start that sprouted with it, what you notice most about Memphis' encouraging November is that the Grizzlies opened 10-5 without their answer to Sura: Brian Cardinal.
The Grizzlies' charge-taking, pick-setting utility man is still recovering from offseason surgery on his left knee, and coach Mike Fratello can't wait for Christmas. Cardinal should be back by then. "We're one big guy short right now," Fratello said, "and that's Brian." ...
It won't generate nearly as much hoopla as Sunday's return to Phoenix for Joe Johnson, but Jan. 27 is another significant date for the Suns and Hawks. That's when Boris Diaw gets his chance to go back to Atlanta and rouse the locals.
Cries that the Hawks committed too much in the sign-and-trade for Johnson -- a contract worth nearly $70 million and two future first-round picks dealt to Phoenix -- are even louder now that Diaw is flourishing under the daring of coach Mike D'Antoni.
Of course, it's worth remembering that lots of folks in Atlanta inside the organization and outside -- were eager to send Diaw anywhere else. In the desert, he's playing everything from point guard to center and averaging 10.5 points, 6.3 boards and 5.8 assists.
The Suns aren't satisfied yet, though. They want to see consistent intensity from the 6-8 Frenchman, which is nice way of saying that they still see hints of the submissive mentality Diaw developed during his two years in a losing program.
About the Spurs' Tony Parker:
"The No. 1 difference is that Tony looks 10 times more aggressive than he's ever been. He's trying to attack at all times.
"And you can talk about trying to make him shoot jump shots, but it's not easy.
"The Spurs are spreading the floor for him more than they ever have and he's getting into the lane at will. They're running a lot of high screen-and-roll or side screen-and-roll with [Tim] Duncan and you can't send more help at Parker because they have a lot of shooters on the floor, too.
"I know [Parker] has been working on his jumper with [new Spurs shooting coach] Chip Engelland, but the big thing he's added is a hesitation move. He's always had quickness end to end, but now he has a change of pace in the half court. When he hesitates, if [the defender] stands up, it's over. He's by you."
"I love my Big Fella. I'll take him any day of the week. This [expletive] can play. You guys can say whatever you want about him, but this [expletive] can play.
"He is not Shaq. Everyone needs to get that out their mind. He can do so many things you guys don't even understand. I'll take him on my team any time."
When does a 25-point night fall on the wrong side of the fine line? When you need 33 shots to get there. But Tuesday's trip to San Antonio and Kobe's usual duel with Bruce Bowen was even uglier than it looks on the surface.
A few days have passed to absorb all the numbers, but they're still shocking: Bryant was 1-for-18 on shots from eight feet away or longer and 0-for-11 from 15 feet and beyond.