Rivals refuse to go soft on Lakers’ Pau Gasol

Funny thing about Pau Gasol.

He’s won two championships, been on four All-Star teams and entrenched himself as the second-best player on the Lakers.

But opponents still like to rip him.

Oklahoma City center Kendrick Perkins called him “soft” a few weeks ago, and New York center-forward Amare Stoudemire followed up on it while making a promotional appearance at a shoe store.

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“He’s still soft,” Stoudemire said in amateur video shot during an informal Q&A session. “He’s a good player, but then he also has help down there with Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum and those 7-footers. He has a supportive cast.”

Apparently Gasol didn’t shed the soft label with his 19-point, 18-rebound effort in Game 7 of last season’s NBA Finals against Boston.

There is a way to silence the criticism.

“Win another championship,” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. “Just go out and do it again. That keeps people quiet really quick.”


Does Jackson think Gasol is soft?

“The perception of this tall lanky guy and how he plays the game may appear that way but he somehow has a knack of getting those 20 points and 10 rebounds night in and night out,” he said. “He’s a pretty amazing athlete and his tenacity is there. He’s a tenacious guy and he wants to win. It’s evident in the way we played since he’s come to this team.”

Not quite yet

The playoffs begin in a little more than a week, but Jackson isn’t quite ready to give his starters fewer minutes.

“I really don’t get into that except for maybe shortening minutes, and that’ll probably be a two- or three-minute range,” he said. “That’s all.”

Kobe Bryant sat out four of the Lakers’ final five games at the end of the regular season a year ago, but it was injury-driven.

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The Lakers are still chasing San Antonio in the Western Conference, trailing by 21/2 games before Tuesday’s games. They were also a game behind Chicago for the NBA’s second-best record.

Almost time

Many people wonder whether Jackson can really retire while seemingly at the top of his game.

He continues to say yes.

“My mobility is some of it,” he said, referring to a 65-year-old body that has been put through two hip replacements.

“I think it’s a perfect opportunity to retire. This is a great opportunity for us and try to ‘three-peat’ again as a basketball team here in L.A. I think it’s an experience that’s real exciting for players.”

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Jackson actually said he would consider coaching high school next season — “That’s something that always has been kind of an interest of mine,” he said — but then killed the possibility in another breath.

“I don’t think I’m up for it right now,” he said, providing a reason via his modern-day experience with some of the younger Lakers. “The communication level between myself and 20-year-olds, there’s a gap. There really is.”