Four ways to make up for a possibly limited Pau Gasol against Utah
When Lakers forward Pau Gasol fell to the ground after Nuggets center Nene delivered a hard foul, thoughts immediately swirled in his mind.
"It was a scary moment for me, but I was able to get up," Gasol said. "As I was walking, the pain was decreasing so that was a good sign."
Consider it a false alarm.
After leaving the game to check on the ligaments surrounding his right knee, he returned shortly afterward. Gasol received an MRI on Monday and the results showed he had a bone bruise in his right knee. Still, he felt healthy enough to suit up Tuesday against Utah.
"He came in this morning and, you know, is feeling fine and ready to go," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson told reporters at morning shootaround. "Obviously, we'll watch him closely but right now he says he feels OK."
Considering the possibility he would be limited against Utah, here are four ways to compensate.
1. Have Kobe Bryant take over. Well, duh. But it's not as simple as it sounds. As talented as Bryant is, and as someone who can seemingly score at will, that task becomes much easier when Gasol is on the floor and fully effective. Gasol is the yin to Bryant's yang as the two work off each other in pick-and-rolls and make defenses remain split on who to double-team. With Gasol in the lineup against Utah, the two will still have that luxury. But Bryant will likely feel compelled to shoulder more of the load. That's a good strategy to have, but the Lakers need to make sure that comes off more on effective ball movement and less on isolation plays.
2. Andrew Bynum should ease the burden.This is something he's actually done pretty well and is the main reason why the Lakers have gone 17-2 since the All-Star break. He's finally accepted Bryant's edict expressed last season: "I eat first, and Pau eats second. Everybody else can eat what's left." Sometimes there's not many leftovers to go around, so Bynum has relied on the scraps (rebounding, blocks and becoming a staple of the team's defensive set). They're simply scraps because it's not the most glorious responsibility. But it is important and quantifiable, two variables that made it easier for Bynum to embrace. The Lakers may have to rely on that even more. This isn't an excuse for Gasol to check out. But let's face it. Many times when he's hit adversity such as fatigue, physical play, etc, he has. So Bynum should at least anticipate it.
3. The Lakers should build up a sizable lead so they can reap the rewards of recalling Derrick Caracter. After a glorious three-game stint with the Bakersfield Jam, the Lakers are asking for his services. This isn't so much a promotion as it is an insurance policy. Jackson made it very clear Caracter will pack his bags again as soon as Bakersfield begins its playoff series Friday against Rio Grande Valley. Caracter's main focus should entail staying ready. He's admitted being mixed bag in that department this season, saying the unpredictable playing time prompted him not to think it was always necessary to do the proper preparation before the game. Tuesday night isn't the time to do that. Although Gasol told Jackson he's healthy enough to go, the Lakers are mindful that they can't afford for his knee to get any worse with the playoffs still looming. Less playing time for Gasol because of a comfortable lead would ultimately be a good thing, which will be partly measured by how well Caracter can play.
4. Gasol should adjust his game if need be.It's easy to assume Gasol will play tentatively because of the desire to keep his knee healthy. But he didn't appear any less aggressive after taking the fall against Denver. Then again, he was reluctant to drive to the basket the entire game, opting mostly for midrange jumpers. But if Gasol's jumper isn't falling for whatever reason, he should find something tangible, such as rebounding or timely passing, to help contribute.
Photo: Pau Gasol reacts after making a basket against the Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center on Thursday. Credit: Mike Nelson / EPA