The Lakers need to make rest for Pau Gasol a top priority
Pau Gasol's performances in the Lakers past four losses, including the team's 109-99 loss Wednesday to the Houston Rockets, show he's drained. His trip to the locker room to get his hamstring looked at reveals the heavy playing time is leaving himself vulnerable. And his admission afterward that he's tired shows that he might not have it in him anymore to keep pushing through.
"What's my concern? My concern is that it doesn't get better, or that it gets worse and it becomes a problem," Gasol told reporters, including The Times' Broderick Turner. "Then we'll really have a problem."
That's the first red flag Gasol has shown since logging a team-leading 39.4 minutes per game this season, partly because Andrew Bynum is rehabbing his surgically repaired right knee. In other cases, Gasol has spoken diplomatically about his role and offered zero complaints about his increased responsibility.
I don't take Gasol's latest comments as him lamenting his role as much as him worrying about his long-term health. This isn't a matter of Gasol just having to fight through it. Since logging a statistically perfect stat line of 28 points on 10 of 10 shooting and eight of eight from the free-throw line, Gasol has shot 24 of 60 (40%) in the past five games, shot above 50% in only one of those contests, and has scored below 20 points in four of the five.
These performances can't solely correlate with the opposition's double teams and the heavier focus on Gasol in the lane. This strongly points to the law of diminishing returns; Gasol's willingness to push through hasn't yielded the same production he had provided earlier this season. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson has voiced these concerns quite vocally since last week, but the game plan has still remained the same. Among the variables in all this are the Lakers' unwillingness to acquire a backup center, the team's desire for Bynum to return completely healthy, and Derrick Caracter's inexperience. I had gone through in detail the scenarios that would enable more rest for Gasol, but that was more rooted in the fact that the Lakers would also want to win the game.
But it's gotten to the point where Jackson and the Lakers can't simply hope Gasol ran ride it out until Bynum returns. The Lakers may not want to pay at least $70,000 in player salary and luxury taxes to acquire a backup center until Bynum returns, but that might be the price they need to pay to ensure Gasol's long-term health. Jackson may be reluctant to play Caracter more minutes or go toward a more perimeter-oriented lineup because it gives the Lakers less of a chance to end their four-game losing streak. But the latest approach hasn't been working. And with Jackson always measuring how the Lakers look in April and May more than in November and December, resting Gasol might be necessary to ensure that long-term success.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Lakers center Pau Gasol, left, is fouled by Memphis center Hasheem Thabeet as he tries to put up a shot during the second half of the Lakers' 98-96 loss Tuesday. Credit: Nikki Boertman / Reuters