The Los Angeles Lakers have been plagued with constant injuries all season long. One of the biggest reasons for the team’s struggles, especially early on in the season, is the fact that the starting lineup that stirred up high expectations have had a minimal amount of time to play together on the court at the same time.
However, this may change in the very near future, as Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol are expected to play Friday night. While Kobe hasn’t played since the end of the first quarter in Indiana on March 15th due to a sprained ankle sustained in Atlanta, Gasol has been out of the lineup since February 5th when he tore his plantar fascia in the closing minutes against the Brooklyn Nets.
Gasol’s presence has been missed by the Lakers, as his multiple skills without a doubt makes the team better. However, one source of conflict this season has been for Mike D’Antoni to find a way how to used Dwight Howard and Pau in the same rotation to capitalize on that advantage and use it as a strength. That may change since D’Antoni has already stated that he plans to use the two big men together, especially defensively.
At practice on Thursday, D’Antoni was asked how and why the Howard and Gasol duo will be more effective and different now compared to the small sample size of games earlier this season. Per Brian Kamenetzky, D’Antoni offered the following explanation:
“Definitely, because there was two issues you have to factor in (when looking at previous results). I don’t think Dwight was 100 percent. Now with him 100 percent, that helps. I don’t think Pau was 100 percent early in the year. Just that alone will help. And I don’t think Metta (World Peace) was 100 percent. He was having trouble guarding guys on the perimeter. So we had a lot of breakdowns and stuff, and I think they’ve kind of corrected themselves lately. Pau has to get back in condition, but Metta is good on the perimeter and Dwight’s patrolling the middle. So we should be very good defensively.”
So your expectation is the combination will perform better going forward than it did before?
“It better. It’s got to. We don’t have any other choice, so I hope so.”
The Lakers’ defense has not been up to par this season, although it has improved over the last few weeks. However, the Lakers’ defense still lags in two key areas that need to improve as the team makes that final push of the season. The Lakers are ranked 24th in the NBA for total points allowed to opponents (101.1) and they are ranked 28th in the NBA for points allowed in the paint (44.5).
The goal is that the Howard and Gasol duo in the paint at the same time can be threatening to opponents, and therefore force them out. This has a real chance of occurring as the two big men’s health continues to improve. The Lakers’ frontcourt has been a huge advantage for the team for a while now, and with Howard and Gasol in the lineup together, this advantage will hopefully continue on.