The instant the ball dropped into the basket, Pau Gasol made an airplane motion with his hands. The moment he threw one of his precious lobs to Dwight Howard, Gasol followed through with a series of high fives. The time he sat by his locker stall icing the sore right foot plagued by plantar fasciitis, Gasol showed an amused grin.
His body language during the Lakers’ 104-87 victory Friday over the Portland Trail Blazers told everything you’d need to know about Gasol’s demeanor. That applies to most players, but Gasol’s expressions always seem more profound. During a season where he’s fought frustrations with injuries and a reduced role both under Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni, Gasol suddenly found joy by adjusting his role without diminishing his versatile skillset. Instead, Gasol enhanced it en route to 15 points on 6 of 9 shooting, a 2 of 3 mark from three-point range, nine rebounds and five assists.
“I think I’m figuring it out where I’m going to get my opportunities and where I can get my looks whether they’re threes or anywhere else,” Gasol said. “I just have to keep working on the positions where I’m going to be mostly during the games and try to be effective from whichever place.”
Gasol remained effective from plenty of places, prompting Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni to say, “he just fills up a lot of boxes out there.”
Gasol has gone 5 of 10 from three-point range in the past 10 games. Gasol has logged at least five assists in that timeframe. And when he played at center to relieve minutes for Dwight Howard during the blowout, Gasol performed a series of nifty hooks and post ups.
As Howard mused afterward, “He went from Pau Nowitzki to Pau Olajuwon.”
Oh, and by the way, Gasol performed such a feat while nursing his foot injury.
“I had a good flow out there, but not a lot of bounce,” he said. “I definitely moved pretty well. I was able to make good plays for myself and for my teammates.”
That’s actually happened pretty frequently.
Ever since returning from knee tendinitis that plagued him for eight games, the Lakers have gone 4-1 under Gasol’s presence. That’s of course, coincided with the long-awaited return of Steve Nash, who has averaged 12 points and 9.5 assists since his return. But with D’Antoni describing Gasol and Nash as “the two best passers in the league,” it’s clear the Lakers point guard has also benefitted having a worthy wingman.
“A lot of times I come off the pick and roll and the big shows,” Nash said. “I get it to him quickly and it;s 4 on 3. He can make good reads. With his size, he can pass over the defense. It’s a huge asset for us.”
That hasn’t always been the case.
Only last week, Gasol met with D’Antoni to iron out frustrations in playing away from the post and experiencing three late-game benchings. In the Lakers’ loss Wednesday to Denver, Gasol lacked the energy in nullifying Denver forward Kenneth Faried. His aforementioned injuries has also slowed him down.
That’s why it’s only fitting that when the Lakers retired his No. 52 jersey for seamlessly adapting in any role with the Showtime Lakers, Jamaal Wilkes’ advice in fulfilling such a role applies to Gasol.
“My message would be five to 10 years from now, whatever you feel now, five to 10 years from now you’re going to look back and feel differently,” Wilkes said. “They have a great opportunity and I would just encourage them to do whatever it takes. If you got to learn how to play differently or whatever, do whatever it takes to help this team be as successful as they can be. Ultimately, that will be their legacy.”
Gasol has taken steps to do that.
He spent a good chunk of morning shootaround on Friday working on his three-pointers. Gasol also gushed how he prefers his high assist numbers over flourishing outside shot because it shows strong ball movement.
“He has the talent to be able to add to his game,” Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said. “That’s what he’s doing. We’ll get him down low and put him on the elbows as well. He has the talent to knock down three point shots. That’s something he’s accepted and something that he’s worked on. It’s given us an added threat.”
That’s why it’s no coincidence both Bryant and Howard cheered enthusiastically from the bench in the fourth quarter when Gasol drained a 3-pointer and then made a turnaround jumper on the next possession. Gasol lived up to D’Antoni’s adage that the “ball finds energy,” and he did so without diminishing any of his skills.
“It gives you confidence and a good team flow,” Gasol said. “That’s what we’ve been doing so we just need to continue that. And I’m definitely going to continue to do that.”
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