HOUSTON — After battling tendinitis in both of his knees all season, Lakers forward Pau Gasol will sit out when the Lakers play the Houston Rockets tonight here at Toyota Center in hopes that it heals faster.
Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni attributed Gasol’s absence as “his decision,” but strongly supported it. Gasol, who is listed as day-to-day, didn’t speak to reporters.
“It just kept getting increasingly worse and he wasn’t satisfied with the way he was playing,” D’Antoni said following the Lakers’ morning shootaround. “He just felt that it was a question of not being able to bend down. He felt bad. You talk about it and the easy conclusion is he has to get better.
Lakers forward Antawn Jamison will start in Gasol’s place at power forward, while D’Antoni suggested the shuffling could create more playing time for Jordan Hill, Earl Clark and Devin Ebanks. The Lakers also recalled second-round draft pick Robert Sacre Monday from the D-Fenders’ team’s Development League affiliate. He provided energy during the preseason while the Lakers limited Gasol and Dwight Howard.
Gasol has averaged a career-low 12.6 points on 42 percent shooting and 8.8 rebounds in 34.8 minutes per game in a season that has already featured plenty of challenges. D’Antoni wants Gasol to excel more as a mid-range jumper and facilitator than a post player. His inconsistent aggressiveness and speed also prompted D’Antoni to sit him the entire fourth quarter in the Lakers’ loss to Memphis last week in favor of Jamison. Gasol also missed the last 6:01 of the Lakers’ 113-103 loss Sunday to the Orlando Magic.
D’Antoni believes all these incidents strongly correlated with Gasol’s injury.
“You could tell,” D’Antoni said. “That’s not the guy you know. That’s not the guy who can dunk, run and be 7’2 (he’s seven-foot). He struggled a lot of times when he came out of the game and to go back in, he couldn’t get the lubrication going. That’s a big reason he wasn’t playing in down stretches. I didn’t think he was running fluidly. This is a great solution.”
Plenty of the Gasol’s most prominent teammates say they could relate.
Although he pushed Gasol to “put his big boy pants on” in adapting to his different role following the Lakers’ loss to Orlando, Kobe Bryant compared his left shin injury last season that kept him out for seven games to Gasol’s latest health scare.
“It’s difficult for him because he doesn’t have the explosiveness that he usually has,” Bryant said. “A lot of it, I’m assuming, has to do with being injured physically and not being able to get up and down the court and perform at a high level. That could lead to some frustration. I dealt with it with the shin. I was out there playing around and playing and you wind up being a shell of your shelf because of the physical limitation.”
Meanwhile, Lakers center Dwight Howard found similarities to his mindset to when he exercised patience during rehab from back surgery during the preseason.
“You always want to try to play and give a great effort every night and do the best you can, but sometimes you get scrutinized when you don’t perform as well as everybody wants you to,” Howard said. “Sometimes they may not realize you might be injured. People expect us when we get on the floor to be 100 percent every night. It’s a tough situation for Pau. But he has to realize we all have his back and will continue to play hard. Hopefully he gets healthy as soon as possible. Until then, everyone on the team has to step up and fill the void.”
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