Mike D’Antoni was extraordinarily harsh on Pau Gasol when he took over the job as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers in November, but he’s finally softening his stance on the big man.
Gasol returned to the starting lineup on March 25 after missing six weeks with a foot injury. The team has gone 8-2 in its last 10 games — all of which Gasol has played over 30 minutes. Save Sunday’s win over the Spurs, Gasol has been shooting the ball extremely well. He has also been posting great rebound totals (9.7 per game in that span), and averaging 5.6 assists per game over his last 10 contests. His production has not come at the expense of the team’s other big man, Dwight Howard. Howard has routinely shot over 60 percent, grabbed double-digit rebounds and scored over 20 points in recent games.
“I’ve come to realize that we can play with the two big guys,” D’Antoni said in reference to Gasol and Howard while speaking with the media on Tuesday. “I was a little skeptical at first. I think with both of them being close to 100 percent, yeah, they can play together easily. I kind of had a preconceived notion that probably wasn’t right.”
It’s better that D’Antoni made his discovery before it was too late. I honestly thought he was crazy when he was benching Gasol for Earl Clark.
The funny thing is that Howard says nothing is different now from how it was before.
“Nothing has changed,” said Dwight Howard. “We can play together. That’s why they brought us here — so we could play together.”
Though Howard didn’t say it, the big difference is probably the health of the players. Gasol’s conditioning was in question when D’Antoni took over, and D’Antoni was blunt about benching the Spaniard. Maybe the reason Gasol didn’t look so good was because of his knee and foot problems at the time, which have likely improved. We know based on his improved play that Howard is recovering from offseason back surgery.
Maybe the Lakers were not poorly constructed this whole time. Maybe they just were not healthy.
Photo credit: Matthew Emmons, US Presswire