Lakers forward/center Pau Gasol has had an up-and-down season, recently playing through an ankle sprain that limited his mobility.
"I felt better the last two games," Gasol said in a phone interview with The Times. "More effective, more explosive."
In a loss to the Atlanta Hawks and a win over the Memphis Grizzlies, Gasol averaged 18.5 points while shooting 76.2% from the field.
Conditioning has been a challenge for Gasol after off-season knee procedures to help alleviate tendinosis. His recent ankle injury didn't help matters.
"I don't like to make excuses," he said. "Things happen, bumps and bruises come up and of course they affect you in certain ways, but they happen to everyone."
On the season, Gasol is averaging 14.7 points and 9.3 rebounds a game while shooting just 43.9% from the field.
Gasol is certainly happy Kobe Bryant is back from his Achilles' tendon injury. The two still have tremendous chemistry, and as Bryant has improved in recent games, so has Gasol.
"It helps to have him on the court because we have a special connection and we understand each other we know our games we know our strengths," he said. "Kobe [and I] have been through so much together ... and I think I might help him too."
Gasol has openly questioned his role in Coach Mike D'Antoni's offense, both last year and during the current season, in which he often catches the ball far from the basket.
Whether it's Bryant, D'Antoni or Gasol himself, the former All-Star has recently found himself in a better position to score.
"The whole road trip really was an improvement. I look forward for that to continue," said Gasol on playing in the post. "That's one of my strengths, if not my top strength. It's good to be in a position where you can play your best and produce more."
Gasol was the Lakers' primary inside option when they won back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010. The last few years have been stressful -- dating back to 2011 when Gasol was nearly traded in a blockbuster deal that would have landed the Lakers Chris Paul.
He's heard rumors ever since that the Lakers might look to deal him away before his contract expires at the end of the season -- but he'd like to stay.
"That would be nice but it's not up to me. I can't really control that factor," said Gasol. "I'm kind of used to being in this position, so it doesn't nearly affect me. It has affected me at times but not at this point. I've grown past that."
He's not ready to seriously consider his options this summer.
"There's no point in thinking that far ahead," Gasol said. "I think about the next game. That's the mind-set -- think about the next game, think about the next practice, just try to do your best and everything will work itself out."
Gasol is a kind-hearted optimist, a dedicated philanthropist with a focus on children in need and a UNICEF ambassador.
"I'm so nice, people take advantage of it, that's the problem sometimes," Gasol admitted. "I appreciate the people that appreciate it -- that don't take it for granted or don't take advantage of it for their own benefit."
"It's a tough business to be in for that," he acknowledged.
So far this season, the Lakers are 12-13, despite playing without Bryant for 19 games.
"I think we just have to find that consistency and that's been hard due to the injuries that we have. We have no point guards," Gasol said.
The Lakers have naturally struggled with Steve Nash (back), Steve Blake (elbow) and Jordan Farmar (hamstring) all sidelined.
Bryant has taken over as the team's starting point guard.
"As long as we keep our cool and keep our head where it needs to be, and not allow the comments and criticism when we lose a couple of games [to bother us], we'll be fine," Gasol said. "I think the team has enough talent to move up and have a good season."
"I think the main thing is it's just a great group of guys, they're just having fun and playing hard, and playing together," he said.
But is he enjoying the season?
"It's always fun to get on the basketball floor and do what you love to do," Gasol said.
It's the business side of the NBA that Gasol doesn't have the same taste for.
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