Pau Gasol has only played in 50 percent of the games this year, yet his impact has been greater than most of the guys who have played the entire season. After missing the first 11 games with a hamstring injury, Gasol came back and immediately helped the Lakers win 10 straight games. The team is now 12-1 since the All-Star forward returned to the lineup.
There is no question that Gasol is the x-factor for this Lakers team. Ever since Shaq left town, the team had been desperately looking to find a competent interior presence to compliment Kobe. Kwame Brown and Chris Mihm couldn’t do it for them and up until this season, Andrew Bynum was too young, too raw and too injury prone to fill that void. When Gasol was traded L.A. in February of 2008, his versatile skill set in the post proved to be the missing piece to the Lakers’ championship puzzle.
The Lakers have not lost three straight games once since Pau has worn the purple and gold. For the season, Gasol has averaged 17.6 points, 11.5 boards, 4.1 assists and 1.3 blocks per contest. In the past three games alone, he’s averaged 18.6 rpg including two straight 20-rebound outings. With so many people on the roster that need shots, Pau has been getting the majority of his point production through layups and put backs off of offensive boards. It’s safe to say Gasol has finally shaken the “soft” label that haunted him ever since he entered the NBA.
After Bynum went down last season, Gasol picked up the slack in the post. Now that Bynum is at 100 percent and having an All-Star season, the two big men form the best frontcourt in the league. Add Ron Artest’s defense, Derek Fisher’s veteran leadership and the scoring ability from a guy named Kobe, and you got yourself the deepest and most talented starting lineup in the NBA. And with Lamar Odom and Shannon Brown highlighting the bench, the Lakers are the odds on favorites to repeat as champs.
Of course nothing is perfect. After losing to Utah a few nights ago, Gasol was upset about the number of touches he got. At times, having Bynum share the post with him can make Gasol feel crowded. Kobe recently fractured his finger and even though he is playing through the pain, only time will tell whether it will affect him down the line. The team has also played the majority of their games at home, so they have yet to really be tested on the road.
But even with those issues, the fact remains that the Lakers are 19-4 and are making a b-line towards their third straight Finals appearance. And though he doesn’t get a lot of touches, shots or headlines, you can bet L.A. can’t repeat without Pau in the lineup.
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