The pain bothered him so much that Pau Gasol had an MRI last week that showed a muscle strain in his left foot.
It wasn’t enough to keep Gasol from posting 14 points on 6 of 10 shooting and eight rebounds in the Lakers’ 116-95 victory Tuesday over the New Orleans Pelicans at Staples Center.
“It felt better,” Gasol said. “Physically it’s been better. I was able to put a better effort together that’s sharper.”
But Gasol conceded the injury affected his movement enough to contribute to his early season struggles. He had averaged 12.1 points on 38.2 percent shooting and 10.4 points, while also going through a four-game stretch where he shot below 50 percent. Those numbers actually fare worse than last season when Gasol averaged a career-low 13.7 points on 46.6 percent shooting for reasons including a reduced role alongside Dwight Howard and ailments that kept him out for 33 games, including plantar fascia in his right foot, knee tendinitis and a concussion.
“It was sore a lot of times. But I don’t like to talk about things like that because they sound like excuses,” Gasol said. “I don’t like to make excuses when things go wrong.”
Gasol said he started feeling pain toward the tail end of training camp and believes the injury is related to his right foot injury because of overcompensation. “Hopefully we can keep it under control,” Gasol added.
Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni first divulged the injury by citing a “foot issue” contributing to Gasol’s poor conditioning. It also didn’t help that Gasol dealt with a respiratory illness at the beginning of the season that he said has since healed.
“He’s a big guy that takes a pounding,” D’Antoni said. “But he knows how to deal with it.”
Gasol’s effort against New Orleans marked only the second time in the Lakers’ (4-5) nine games that he shot above 50 percent. His presence along with Jordan Hill starting at power forward over Chris Kaman also helped limit Pelicans forward Anthony Davis to 15 points on 6 of 11 shooting and five rebounds five days he posted 32 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks.
“I definitely physically feel a little better,” Gasol said. “I was able to put a better effort together. I was sharper. I would like to continue to shoot over 50 percent if I can. I felt good. It was a good overall game.”
The Lakers will likely need more.
With Kobe Bryant healing a torn left Achilles tendon and Steve Nash staying sidelined for at least two weeks to heal his back, the Lakers are looking toward Gasol.
“Pau knows that he has to lead us,” D’Antoni said. “He has to be the guy that dominates the game, more or less. We got to get him into position to be able to do that. Again, it’s not just one guy, but he’s the most talented guy we have on the team and he’ll have to be our leader.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org