Pau Gasol fights frustrations during Lakers' win over Phoenix
Once he slipped a well-placed pass from Kobe Bryant out of his hands, Pau Gasol picked it up and smacked it against his palms.
A few moments after Steve Blake threw an unreachable lob over his head, Gasol slumped over on the bench on the next timeout.
When former teammate and Phoenix guard Shannon Brown snuck behind for a put-back dunk that cut the Lakers’ lead to five points with 4:28 remaining, Gasol stared off into the distance.
Plenty of images defined Gasol’s frustration on a night the Lakers exuded positive energy everywhere else in their 111-99 victory Friday over the Phoenix Suns. Bryant’s 36 points on 14-of-25 shooting came after a seven-game slump where he shot only 37% from the field. Andrew Bynum’s 17 points on a seven-of-13 clip showcased his continual growth in passing and re-posting out of double teams. The reserve unit’s combined 34 points suggested it finally escape remaining one of the NBA’s least effective benches.
As far as Gasol, though, his 10 points on only four-of-13 shooting conveyed something to Bryant beyond the Lakers’ forward having a bad game. Bryant attributed Gasol’s effort to “an emotional couple of days for him” as reports circulated this week the Lakers may trade him before the March 15 deadline. An online report mentioned the Minnesota Timberwolves offered Derrick Williams and draft picks for Gasol.
“Personally I don't understand that crap,” Bryant said. “But it is what it is. It's important for him to know we support him. I support him especially. I just want him to go out there and play hard and do what he does best for us.”
Suns center Marcin Gortat swatted away Gasol’s open hook shot in the third quarter. In the same period, Suns forward Channing Frye blocked Gasol’s layup attempt. Though he compensated for his shooting struggles with 13 rebounds, Gasol missed three putbacks.
Gasol has acknowledged in recent days that he remains uncertain the Lakers will keep him. He admitted feeling frustrated over what he described as an "erratic night.” Yet, Gasol maintained his poor play had nothing to with his flimsy standing with the Lakers.
“At times it crosses your mind, but not exactly when you're playing,” Gasol said. “Obviously when you're playing, you're focused and you try to do the best that you can. It's something you have to shake off regardless at any time.”
Lakers Coach Mike Brown said he emphasized that point in a pre-game meeting, telling the players “we need to see if we’re tough enough mentally to withstand noise that’s outside our locker room.”
Gasol has heard plenty of it.
The Lakers originally tried trading him before training camp in a three-team trade that would’ve sent Gasol to the Houston Rockets, Lamar Odom to the New Orleans Hornets and Chris Paul to the Lakers. Once NBA Commissioner David Stern nixed the trade for “basketball reasons,” Gasol repeatedly stressed his desire to remain a Laker.
Although he still wears a purple and gold uniform, Gasol’s role has fluctuated. Bryant’s high-scoring rate and Andrew Bynum’s increased aggressiveness moved Gasol into a facilitating role. His 16.1 points per game average on 50.2% shooting and 9.8 rebounds in January reflected a drop-off compared to his 18.8 points, 52.9% clip and 10.2 rebounds he averaged last season. Still, Gasol’s improved those numbers in February, posting 18.6 points on 46.8% shooting and 14 rebounds.
“He’s going to be there when we need him,” Bynum said. “I don’t worry at all about him. He’s a top class player in the world.”
But Gasol sure didn’t look like one against Phoenix.
“Obviously I’m not too glad I was missing some looks and not capitalizing on some opportunities that I had,” he said. “When you’re going through it, you’re going through it. There’s not much you can do about it. Just continue to play and make plays.”
Gasol will find out in a little less than a month whether he will still make those plays with the Lakers.
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