Pau Gasol said Wednesday afternoon at practice (Lakers practice, for those needing more specificity) in El Segundo he felt “confident” about suiting up for Friday night”s game against the Wizards at Staples, but “we don”t want to get too ahead of ourselves.”
So whether it”s Friday or Monday night in Oakland, it looks like Gasol will be back on the floor sooner rather than later, meaning the whole “What happens when Pau comes back?” question finally gets an answer.
Here are a few things to consider…
1. Earl Clark”s return to Earth has made diffused the issue of whether or not Pau starts.
Over the last couple weeks, our in-game timeline has featured a lot of “Earl Clark sucks!” Not fair. Earl Clark doesn”t suck, it just turns out he is, in fact, Earl Clark. The good news is it turns out Earl Clark is a useful NBA player, the type of guy who can be a solid addition to a team”s rotation. If he”s your seventh or eighth best player, it could be a good thing. If he”s your starting power forward, it”s probably not.
Clark”s high-end production wasn”t going to be sustainable, even if he didn”t get dinged up with injuries or the league, which had for into four seasons ignored Clark completely, didn”t start paying attention while he was on the floor. Both happened, and his performance suffered. In March, Clark”s, his 3-point numbers below 29 percent. His defense hasn”t been particularly good, either.
Still, lay off Clark, or at the least maintain a little perspective. The idea the Lakers were going to stumble upon a cheap, double-double machine who would lead their resurgence was a little far-fetched. Be happy they found a high end athlete who works hard, is coachable, has some utility, and will likely be affordable in the offseason.
At any rate, removing Clark from the starting lineup is hardly a controversial proposition.
2. Just because Gasol can start doesn”t make him a shoe-in to finish.
Based on plus/minus numbers, features Kobe Bryant with Steve Nash, Dwight Howard, Jodie Meeks, and Metta World Peace. Not coincidentally, that group — or a similar lineup swapping Meeks for Antawn Jamison — has finished most games, lately. In 101 minutes, the four-starters-plus-Meeks fivesome is a plus-58. The Jamison edition is plus-34 in 94 minutes.
The Lakers look like a good bet to finish no worse than eighth in the West — the Jazz are quickly devolving into a quivering bowl of Jell-O – but still can”t be screwing around. Moreover, as AK pointed out during a podcast last week, the Lakers have very little time to find whatever rhythm they can going into the playoffs. I”m sure they”ll try, and still think the team”s best shot at playing to full capacity is with its best players on the floor as much as possible. Still, if it doesn”t work with Gasol closing games the Lakers really don”t have the luxury of forcing the issue, particularly to keep the peace. While he won”t rock the boat, Gasol won”t like it (and I”ll sympathize because Gasol is a Player Whose Talent Says He Should Finish Games) and some fans will howl, but in fairness to Mike D”Antoni the Lakers can”t be experimenting this late in the game.
That which works now needs to be the priority.