With his persistent high-fives and head rubs during practice, it’s clear Pau Gasol cherishes Kobe Bryant’s return to the lineup.
The reasons go beyond Bryant giving the Lakers an extra boost in leadership, scoring and closing. After struggling as the Lakers’ offensive focal point, Gasol believes Bryant’s return will help jumpstart his game in the same way when they teamed together to win two NBA championships.
“You always want that caliber of player on the floor with you,” Gasol said. “Because of that, he’s a big weapon and big focal point of attraction for the opponent. It usually makes things easier for everybody else.”
It was hardly easy for Gasol this season despite feeling emboldened with a heightened role stemmed from Dwight Howard’s departure and Bryant’s absence. Gasol enters the Lakers’ (10-9) game tonight against the Toronto Raptors (4-12) at Staples Center averaging 14.5 points on 41.8 percent shooting and 9.8 rebounds in 30.8 minutes amid more defensive attention. It didn’t help Gasol’s season-long shot chart showed him shooting more jumpers at the top of the key than rolling to the basket. Or that he struggled through health issues, including a respiratory illness and a sprained right ankle.
But with the Lakers and Bryant both echoing he will take on a larger facilitating role, Gasol presumably will benefit. During practices this week, Bryant routinely set up Gasol along the elbows and posts for open looks. After each made basket, Gasol and Bryant often embraced. That symbolized why Bryant referred to Gasol as his “brother” in a written foreword in Gasol’s recent photography book: “Gasol: Life/Vida.”
“He trusts I’m a really good playmaker and I will make the right decision once the ball is off his hands,” Gasol said. “That’s the way it’s been. he trusts my passing ability and decision making ability. It’s huge for me.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org