A happy return for Lakers’ Pau Gasol
The never-ending “hamstring watch” finally ended. Pau Gasol was back.
After two setbacks and almost five weeks of limping around on the most scrutinized leg muscle of the season, Gasol returned to the Lakers, looking as if he had never left them.
The box scores show he missed 11 games, but he was in late-season form in a 108-93 victory Thursday over the Chicago Bulls at Staples Center.
Gasol had 24 points and 13 rebounds in 35 minutes. The Lakers had the starting five they envisioned for months.
They had experienced a weird few weeks without him. There was a home loss to Dallas. Near-losses in Oklahoma City and Houston. A drubbing in Denver. Another home loss to Houston.
They were 8-3 without him, nowhere near the confidence and competence that made them NBA champions five months ago.
There had been one glimpse of glory -- a thrashing of Phoenix last week -- but then a lot of shrugs. “Wait ‘til we’re healthy,” was the general response.
They’re healthy now, the lone exception being reserve forward Luke Walton.
Gasol waited all of 24 seconds before marking his presence, scoring on a tip-in.
He also filled the lane on a fastbreak, scoring on a finger roll. Then he tipped in a miss by Andrew Bynum. Slipped behind the defense for an easy basket after a long pass from Lamar Odom. Nailed a left-handed hook shot over Joakim Noah.
And that was all in the first half.
“I really wasn’t expecting to be as effective as I was tonight,” Gasol said. “The condition isn’t there yet, but it’s a matter of pushing through it. I’m just really happy that I can play again with my teammates after being out for a while.”
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson had compared the Bulls to the energetic Houston team that beat L.A. on Sunday. But the Bulls had only 67 points through three quarters, shooting 41.5%.
On offense, the trickle-down effect was almost immediate. Kobe Bryant had been averaging almost 10 points in first quarters this season. On Thursday, he had only two in the first. The Lakers led, 25-19, barely breaking a sweat.
Bryant finished with 21 points, nine rebounds and a season-high eight assists.
Bynum had 11 points and eight rebounds, a definite dip in his stats, though he played only 24 minutes because of foul trouble. He also jammed his ankle but is not expected to miss Sunday’s game against Oklahoma City.
“I wouldn’t expect that anybody’s going to have the same numbers now that Pau’s back,” Jackson said. “Everybody’s got to give up something, but the team should gather something from that as an overall factor.”
They gathered all right, never trailing by more than two points. They outscored the Bulls in the paint, 60-40, and outrebounded them, 51-44.
Bryant picked up another historical note, passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for second place on the Lakers’ all-time scoring list after a free throw with 6:07 left in the third quarter. Bryant now has 24,182 points, six more than Abdul-Jabbar. He still trails Jerry West (25,192 ).
But the story of the night was Gasol. Even Bryant seemed to know it.
“He’s a great passer and he’s great at reading the defense,” Bryant said. “You have another player that puts the defense in jeopardy.”
Walton underwent a procedure in which a nerve in his back was zapped in an effort to dim the pain signals transmitted from the back to the brain. He will be out at least six weeks.
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