Pau Gasol shows his versatility in Laker win over Portland
After he swished the three-point shot that gave the Lakers a 20-point lead over the Portland Trail Blazers late in the second quarter of what would become a 104-87 thrashing, Pau Gasol pumped his fist and floated to the bench on the sound of roars from the Staples Center crowd. And who could blame him for enjoying a moment of elation in a season that has given him so few reasons to smile?
“How about it?” he said, with a broad grin.
Not that the three-point shot will ever be his trademark, but he hit the first two of three attempts from beyond the three-point arc on Friday and has made five of nine three-point attempts in the Lakers’ last three games, two of them wins.
Give the man some points — at least three — for trying something different, like the “submarine dunk” that helped the Lakers clinch their Christmas Day victory over the New York Knicks. And credit him with adjusting to a style that clearly doesn’t favor his talents and has moved him out of the familiar post position, where he can use his size and soft touch so well.
Gasol, who met with Coach Mike D’Antoni last week to discuss his role and their differences about it, had 15 points Friday in addition to nine rebounds, three blocks and five assists. It was the fifth straight game he’s dished out at least five assists, and he considered that the most significant stat on his score line.
“I like that a lot. More so than the threes,” he said while icing his sore right foot in a bucket of ice to ease the effects of plantar fasciitis.
“I like getting my teammates easy looks and just moving the ball. It’s a good sign when your assists are up as a team. Everybody gets a chance. The open guy is going to get the ball. It gives you confidence. It gives you a good team flow. And that’s what we’ve been doing. So we just need to continue to do that and I’m definitely going to continue to do it.”
It has been a struggle for him, he acknowledged, and it’s not over yet.
“I’m figuring out where I’m going to get my opportunities and where I can get my looks, whether they’re threes or anywhere else,” he said. “So I just have to keep working on positions where I’m going to be mostly during the games and try to be effective whichever place.”
Gasol moved back to the post in the fourth quarter, allowing Dwight Howard to rest and brag that he had beaten Gasol in their three-point contest at the team’s morning shootaround.
“Me and Pau work on those three-balls every day in practice. I think he tried to come back [tonight] because in practice today I actually beat him. So he wanted to come in the game and hit some. Pau Nowitzki!” Howard said.
Not quite, but his skill has been useful.
“He has to take the ones that he can make. He has to feel comfortable with it,” D’Antoni said. “He’ll never take more than three or four and it does spread the floor. It does help. He will be open.
“It’s funny .... When we have our practices and Pau’s out there shooting, he’s one of my best shooters. So if I allowed Darius Morris to shoot a three, I surely am going to allow Pau to shoot one, because he’s a better shooter.”
Gasol was the invisible man in Mike Brown’s Princeton offense early in the season, and he has had his difficulty with D’Antoni’s strategy of moving him out of the post. But Gasol’s spirit is willing, even if his body is weak and has betrayed him recently.
He missed eight games because of knee tendinitis, and recent tests revealed that he has plantar fasciitis in his right foot. Teammate Metta World Peace, who has had that ailment, said it can flare up at any time and produces a stinging feeling with every footfall. Gasol plans to play through it, another sign of his commitment to making himself and this team better.
His foot “is a little sore. It’s going to stay a little sore. I don’t think it’s going to go away,” he said. “I’m not going to stop playing for a while. I just have to deal with it, keep icing it, keep getting treatment on it so it doesn’t get worse.”
In the meantime, the Lakers’ prospects are getting better. “It was an important game for us, there was no doubt about it. We needed this win badly,” he said.
They got it, in part, because Gasol was so versatile and so good.
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