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Pau Gasol largely responsible for Lakers' 109-100 Game 1 loss to New Orleans Hornets

60970639Walking toward the exit of the Lakers' locker room, a team official paced nervously.

"Where ... is Pau Gasol?" the official said to himself. The locker room just opened to the media at 11 a.m. Sunday, 90 minutes before the Lakers' Game 1 matchup with New Orleans and Gasol remained nowhere in sight. That prompted some concerns since this coincided with the team's rule that players arrive at least 90 minutes for tipoff. Moments later, Lakers forwards Lamar Odom and Ron Artest slipped into the locker room and quickly dressed, hoping to avoid getting caught by assistant coach Frank Hamblen, who's in charge of monitoring such things. Meanwhile, Lakers forward Luke Walton sat by his locker, laughed at his teammates' tactics in avoiding detection and remarked the team has set up a standings race on who collected the most "silly fines," infractions such as arriving late to a game or a cell phone going off that ultimately costs a player at least $50 and goes into a pot for team dinners.

"There's no way to tell who's winning," Walton said. "There's so much going on. It changes every week and someone takes over the lead."

That ongoing change perfectly epitomizes what plagued the Lakers in their 109-100 loss Sunday to New Orleans in Game 1 of their Western Conference playoff series, a game that featured little team chemistry and a split in playoff readiness. No one represented that better than Gasol, whose eight points on two-of-nine shooting, six rebounds, zero offensive rebounds and poor defense on pick-and-roll plays contributed to the defeat. Adding injury to insult, he sustained a cut below his left eye during a collision with New Orleans center, and former teammate DJ Mbenga.

"I wasn't very sharp," Gasol said. "I couldn't get into a good rhythm. I didn't get myself going at all. It's up to me and get some energy out there and be aggressive and find ways to get that rhythm."

It's not  fair to pin the loss entirely on Gasol. Odom's 10 points on three-of-six shooting featured six of those points coming in the last minute of the game when the outcome determined and pointed to his failure to lead a bench unit that already lacked Steve Blake (chicken pox) and a limited Matt Barnes (zero points on zero-of-two shooting in eight minutes in his first appearance since missing the last two games because of soreness in his surgically repaired right knee). Lakers center Andrew Bynum returned in his first game since suffering a bone bruise last week with the same amount of fouls as field goals (four), showing he could've finished with more than nine rebounds and two blocks had he played smarter and kept his emotions in check. And the Lakers' 13 turnovers featured five from Bryant, thanks to pesky former teammate in Trevor Ariza and speedy guard Chris Paul adding some stain to Bryant's 34 points on 13-of-26 shooting.

But no one epitomized everything that went wrong for the Lakers in opening the 2011 NBA playoffs more than Gasol. As Bryant said, "Pau's our guy. He's the next in line and the pressure and responsibility comes along with that." It's easy to call it a lack of urgency, but do you characterize that stereotype to Bryant, who carried the offense by making seemingly impossible shots, largely slicing a 55-47 halftime deficit to 73-72 after hurting his neck after he fell into an empty courtside chair next to AEG chief Tim Leiweke? It's convenient to describe the Lakers as still uninterested in these games, but do you apply that to Artest, who scored 16 points on four-of-eight shooting, kept Bynum calm during frustrating play, filled in Gasol's rebounding spot with 11 boards and prompted Jackson to call him "the best player in the game." It's a knee-jerk reaction to pinpoint Paul's 33 points on 11-of-18 shooting to an aging Derek Fisher, who was unable to keep up with him on screen-and-roll plays. But mostly it was Fisher who held his own and then called out for help in pointing out rotations, only to find Gasol proved too slow and too passive to react.

Fisher's never the type to call out Gasol publicly, but he's right in disputing the charge that the Lakers lacked urgency. Only certain players did, namely Gasol. "I can't speak for everybody in terms of our mentality collectively as a group," he said. "I didn't get a sense that we didn't take this seriously and thought we could show up and win. They showed up and played better than us today." But Bryant was someone who was willing to speak candidly on that, even though he acknowledged neither of them spoke afterward. "He's not naturally aggressive," Bryant said of Gasol. "Even when I'm tired, I'm naturally aggressive. You have to rev him up a little bit to get him going. I think this game here, he's going to use it as motivation and come back in Game 2 and be ready to go. I have no doubt about it."

But he didn't in Game 1, a problem considering Jackson had largely stressed how the team's key in putting away New Orleans pointed to why they swept them 4-0 in the regular season: each time the Lakers overwhelmingly dominated with inside production against an undersized center Emeka Okafor and solid but less talented as well as undersized power forward Carl Landry. To make the draw even easier for the Lakers, the Hornets entered this series without power forward David West, who suffered a season-ending aneterior cruciate ligament injury with nine games left in the season. The fact Gasol couldn't replicate the 22.2 points on 70.5% shooting in four games this season goes beyond comprehension. But there he was at Staples Center failing to get a base, threw up flat shots and communicated on defense so ineffectively that he guarded Paul one on one in two consecutive possessions only to get burned both times.

"We played bad basketball," said Bynum, who described his right knee as fine.  "That's what happened. That's really it. That's what it is. Bad basketball, everybody except Kobe and Ron. I was in foul trouble early and I only played 25 minutes. The way we were playing, you're going to lose the game. Defensively we did a horrible job. We walked through the stuff the day before and it's not translating through the game." 

Gasol's struggles pointed to problems that connected to the entire team. His passiveness spurred Bryant to rightfully take over the game, a strategy that proved an unwinnable option after going three-of-nine shooting in the fourth quarter. Gasol's passiveness exposed the Lakers without a frontline identity as he didn't do anything to make up for the production lost with Bynum's foul trouble. And his passiveness on defense created a trickle effect, causing everyone to move out of their own rotations and contradict everything they went over in Saturday's practice.

The Lakers' loss shouldn't be too surprising if you consider their five-game losing streak that followed a 17-1 mark after the All-Star break, Jackson's observation that the team lacked focus this week in practice and the Lakers drawing a first-round opponent some privately acknowledged to me would prove to be the easiest. It turns out the Lakers were wrong, as is Odom's cliched contention of the value in being humbled. There's no need for the Lakers to draw any motivation because the 16 wins needed for another Larry O'Brien Trophy should prove motivating enough. Gasol's effort fulfilled that description the most and even led one fan at Staples Center to yell, "Are you going to show up in Game 2?"

He better, and that includes showing up to Staples Center on time.

--Mark Medina

E-mail the Lakers blog at mgmedin@gmail.com

Photo: Lakers power forward Pau Gasol battles Hornets center Aaron Gray and guard Jarrett Jack for a rebound on Sunday at Staples Center. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / April 17, 2011

 
Comments () | Archives (24)

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Is what it is, let's get game two. Oh by the way, that 2K11 simulation prediction was wild(ly correct)?!?! Hope it's correct that we win the next 4!

MM:

Excellent post at capturing the flaws of our team oday. There is nothing the coaching staff or any of the Lakers team could do to light the fire in Pau's arse!!! His approach to the big games this season is borderline pathetic! He's a professional and get paid very well to do his job which he failed miserably today. Not ready physically could be overcome if you had a strong will and mind (Like Kobe who is playing hurt and season long). Pau is not ready to play the game today mentally is inexcusable. He's starting to remind me of Shaq in his last year as a lakers player. So sad...

Pau didn't look good physically, not just his play. His face looked puffy and drawn. I suspect he's coming down with a cold or flu and was feeling weak and tired.

Plus, Lakers almost always lose Sunday Noon games. They are just not morning people.

Yup, they played lousy and Nawlins deserved the W (Trevorrrrr, come HOME!), but here's the deal...the Lakers are STILL the World Champions and will continue to be so until they lose 4 games in a playoff series. That's one...

I really liked Bynum's comments. He takes responsibility and pointed out what I saw, only Kobe and Artest really played with fire, despite some mistakes. I guess Shannon did okay as well for spurts. Bynum is on the court longer and we're in a lot better shape.

And if Pau shows up, we're even better.

I'm far from worried. I know Nawlins can't play better than they did.

"I'm far from worried. I know Nawlins can't play better than they did.

Posted by: Benjamin | April 17, 2011 at 08:03 PM

"

REALLY!? Not worried!? NO only needs to play equal to what they did today. They don't need to play BETTER.

NuggetsCountry,

You can't play your best games at all times. Perhaps that's something you hadn't considered. They're simply not going to shoot that well and have that few turnovers in 3 of the next 6 games.

Sort of like you can't expect Kobe to score 81 points every game. It's inanely unrealistic.

@Benjamin: What I can and every one of us should expect is 100% effort!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Yes, NO shot 52%, which is really not exceptional, but it is because they had huge in-the-paint numbers - inexcuseable with our bigs. And yes......NO can play better (3% & FT%)!

And can you really expect Kobe to shoot 50% when he will get full double/triple teams going forward since they know they only have to bang on weakminded Pau to get him out of the game and eliminate Kobe with double/triple team - game over!

And.............I consider everything. That used to be my job!

I have suspected for a couple of weeks now that something is going on in Pau's personal life that is distracting him. It's not an excuse, as we all have to leave our stuff at home when it comes time for work, but, being human, it happens. If I am right, then it will be up to his teammates to help him focus for the four or five hours of each game day, including the pre-game rituals, to get the job done. Like someone else said, maybe he doesn't feel well, but it also could be "personal problems" as well. For all we know, Pau could suffer from depression, which knows no boundaries, and can affect anyone in any profession (I speak from the personal experience of a family member). If that is the case, Ron Artest can be a role model for him, as Ron has publicly shared that he has some mental health issues, and he has found ways to overcome them come game time. BTW - Ron was really on his game today. I am sure the Lakers will come out in game two and get the job done, and that Pau will find his focus mentally. On that second play where he had to switch out on Chris Paul, only to get burned again, you could see him shouting out in frustration to his teammates for help, even if it was he who as out of position. When Pau's "head is in the game", the Lakers win - period. They can win when it isn't, but not enough to three-peat. Between Kobe, Fish, and Artest, I am sure Pau will be OK, and they will be fine. I think the "soft" knock on him is due to things we may know nothing about in his private life, because when he is engaged, he is nothing close to "soft".

Go Lakers! Let's send Phil out in the manner fitting his contribution to our team and the league.

What I want to know is why everyone is always harping on our size advantage!? NO has 3 legitimate 7+ footers another 6'11" and another 6'10" player. That is way more size than the Lakers have!!!

Gasol should be embarrassed. That was a truly heartless and spineless display. He should donate his game check to charity. He did not earn it and does not deserve it. Every big man that made an appearance showed more effort and heart than he did including Mbenga and Grey. Unbelievable, this is the playoffs. Skill without heart means nothing in the playoffs. On the same note, Odom should be thanking Pau for taking the spotlight off of him and his equally pitiful and uninspired effort. If that is what the so called 6th man of the year has to offer, I want to recast my vote for Jason Tery or Jamaal Crawford. Time to show up Lakers, your owner and your fans deserve at least effort and heart. If you give us that, we will support you to the end, win or lose.

Enough! Move on to Game 2...the media is eating this up...trying to create or focus on what they perceive as dissension within the Laker ranks.

They've got 2-1/2 days to get it together....I have no doubts that they will.

Pau should have taken four cups of expresso to wake up his head.

Pau was NEVER in the game. What's up with that doctor Pau???

If you want to become a doctor one day, you have to realize that you have to get up and do your job, no matter what the circumstance. It doesn't matter if you are sick, you still have to do the heart operation and do it perfectly.

That was as lazy and soft a game as I've seen from Pau in a long time.

Pau was taking 3 point shots for God's sake. Dammit.

Man up and take responsibilities. Guys need be be harsh on Pau. Kobe was right about that.

This is playoff, not a school trip. How can you be late for playoff games?

Stop proving Perkins right, Pau !

maybe pau is having problem trying to figure out if he really
should be sent to the D-league or not.i find it very odd that
players who phil dont let play much become great players with
other team.as i see it pj coaching style is old school and dont apply with today style of basketball,that is why it great that he is retiring and not soon enough.

Pau didn't show up. Those that watched the game all saw that. My questions, is why didn't Phil wake his ass up or put other deserving players in the game when it's clear Pau was out of it.

The Coach is just as responsible as the players when it comes to getting players ready to play.

To me, they all failed.

Fact Andrew an Pau shot a combined 16 times. Fact N.O. shot over 51% Fact kobe missed his last six shots, four were less than two feet away. Pau's fault??
The team stunk, and bryant chocked when the game was on the line.

What I noticed is that defensively Pau was away from the basket a lot. The man he's guarding may be pulling him out there on purpose, which keeps him from grabbing boards. The Lakers need to handle defense carefully, switching as necessary to handle screen/rolls but not so that Pau ends up guarding Chris Paul.

I am not a fair-weathered fan.
Pau played poorly. That's all. It happens.
He is so consistent, and so talented, and such a great athlete- it is crazy to think that his performance last night will have any bearing on his future play.
He had a bad night, that's it.

But I will also add, nobody was very good at making stops and NO continued to easily surge ahead again and again. So yes, Pau was missing, but the whole team's synchronicity was off.
Don't just blame Pau.

It's just how these things go- I am sure our team will rally and find their rhythm in this series. I'm positive. It's who they are.

The thing I noticed about Pau is he stayed on the perimeter alot! That is a problem. He was not aggressive at all and didn't go to the basket until his last score in the game- at the end of the game. He was horrible! Embarrassment! If you beat him up early, he goes south. That's a problem.

It's very convenient to have Pau on the Lakers to be the designated whipping-boy for all poor team performances.

Pau and Kobe set the tone for the team. Pau did not show up for the game by his own admission. that's not chastising him, but rather pointing out the obvious.

Pau is a night owl. The team was 0-4 this season in 12:30 games at Staples (including yesterday), and 0-5 if you count the 2PM game on Christmas Day vs Miami. Pau had very poor games in all four 12:30 games and a mediocre game in the 2PM game. As Pau goes, so go the Lakers. Phil should have taken him out with four minutes left and put Drew back in, but instead he took him out for only two possessions and then put him back in.

I feel that although pau was horrible so was fisher andodom and Phil as a coach .Whts needed is hunger which most of the lakers lack.Everyone in lakerland knows Fisher gets killed by quick point guards,gone are the day of Kobe covering up for him.Phil should have went small with Bynum as the center with Ron, Trey,kobe and barnes.Lamar shows up every oncen a while and Pau and fish are defensive liabilities. Let Theo and Joe Beast get sum time ,I feel they'll give better effort .


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