TORONTO — After sending mixed messages the past few games on whether Pau Gasol will play as a starter or reserve, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni offered some clarity.
Gasol will start at power forward while Earl Clark will come off the bench when the Lakers (17-22) visit the Toronto Raptors (14-26) today at Air Canada Centre. Clark’s four-game stint as a starter coincided with Gasol being absent because of a concussion and then coming off the bench to phase in his conditioning.
What led to the change?
“Obviously, I think [Gasol] made it pretty clear he wanted to start,” D’Antoni said with a chuckle. “We’ll start him and see how it goes. That’s fine. I’m good with that. He should start. Hopefully the production from the whole team is good. It never comes down to one guy. But I’m comfortable with it.”
Gasol has averaged a career-low 12.2 points on 42 percent shooting and 8.2 rebounds. The reasons vary. They include injuries (knee tendninitis sidleined him for eight games, a concussion sidelined him for five, plantar fasciitis in his right foot limited him during other stretches). Gasol has conceded feeling uncomfortable with D’Antoni’s offense that puts more importance on spacing than featuring post players. Gasol also has appeared to lack confidence.
Meanwhile, Clark had a breakout week during Gasol’s absence, posting double digit points in three games. His play has dropped to single digits in the past two contests, but the Lakers have experienced an uptick of energy because of his hustle, versatility and floor spacing. Meanwhile, Gasol posted an efficient 12 points on 4 of 7 shooting, four rebounds and four assists in 25 minutes off the bench in the Lakers’ 99-90 loss Thursday to the Miami Heat. That marked the first time in 345 regular season games with the Lakers he came off the bench. It also marked the first time Gasol played as a reserve since doing so in three games his rookie season with the Memphis Grizzlies (2001-2002).
Gasol remained adamant about starting before and after D’Antoni floated the possibility following Friday’s practice that he may come off the bench.
“I’ve been a starter my entire career,” Gasol said. “I’ve been a star starter my entire career. I want to continue to be a star starter.”
Nonetheless, D’Antoni still plans to mix up combinations.
“We’ll do that a lot,” D’Antoni said. “We’ll keep the floor open and spread a lot.