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The Extra Pass: Pau Gasol returns just as Lakers need him

Mar 22, 2013, 1:42 PM EDT

Sacramento Kings v Los Angeles Lakers Getty Images

In the fleeting moments this season when the Lakers have had their cover of the media guide starting five together — Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard — they have gone 0-5.

That lineup could take the floor again Friday night against the Wizards — both Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol will start for the Lakers Friday night against the Washington Wizards, coach Mike D’Antoni confirmed after shootaround.

Pau Gasol is back from his plantar fasciitis. Previously, coach Mike D’Antoni has said he wants to start and finish with the big Spaniard (although that may not happen Friday in his first game back). D’Antoni says with the playoffs coming he is going to lean more on Gasol

Is that the smart thing to do considering the Lakers are 7-3 with Earl Clark starting and Gasol not even playing in the last 10 games?

Yes. Yes it is.

First and foremost, talent wins in the NBA. And, with all due respect to Clark, Gasol is the more talented player. Much more. Gasol remains as fundamentally solid and as smooth a big man as there is in the game, and he can get your team efficient buckets in the post, at the elbow, face up or back to the basket. Basically he can score anywhere so long as you don’t ask him to be a stretch four and stand in the corner.

Remember that before Gasol went down he was playing well — he anchored the Lakers second unit plus was developing some chemistry passing to Dwight Howard when Howard moved off the ball (which he has done much better of late). Gasol can rebound, pass and is an underrated defender. Plus, this is a guy who has playoff experience — the Lakers have that 2009 ring because Gasol outplayed Howard (then with Orlando) in the finals.

But more than that, Earl Clark has regressed. The Lakers need to cut his minutes.

When D’Antoni first started using him the Lakers were still trying to shoehorn this roster into D’Antoni’s traditional system and Clark was the kind of athletic player the Lakers lacked. But as the Lakers have modified their offensive system — and as teams got the scouting reports back on Clark — his effectiveness has dropped off the table.

Our own Darius Soriano, writing at his blog ForumBlueandGold, broke down the numbers. And they are not pretty.

In his last 20 games Clark is only shooting 41.4% from the field, including 32.4% from 15-19 feet and 23.8% (10-42) from behind the arc. The increased rate of misses can be attributed to a variety of factors, but the fact is the numbers don’t lie.

But it’s not just a decline on offense that has plagued Clark. His defense has also taken a hit. Clark is getting lost off the ball more when guarding perimeter players, giving up open jump shots in the process…. What we’re seeing with our eyes also bears out in the Lakers defensive numbers with Clark on the floor. In the last 20 games the Lakers post a defensive efficiency of 110.6 when Clark is in the game. That mark is nearly 4 points per 100 possessions worse than Jamison’s number and 6 points per 100 possessions worse than Nash’s (the two players who are often cited as the team’s worst defenders and who hurt the team the most on that end of the floor).

Simply put, with Gasol in the lineup the Lakers will be better.

As Jerry West said, the Lakers have become he team everyone at the top of the West would like to avoid. San Antonio and Oklahoma City would still be heavy favorites, but they are going to have to work a lot harder and face a lot more challenges against Los Angeles than in a matchup with Houston or Golden State. The Lakers are a threat, they are figuring out how to win with this group and Gasol makes that lineup better.

Oh, they’ll still shop him around this summer and likely trade him. But that’s another post for another day.

Right now, the Lakers need Gasol back for a playoff run.

  1. dirtydavis - Mar 22, 2013 at 1:41 PM

    Lakers 2013 champs

  2. davidly - Mar 22, 2013 at 1:49 PM

    This team will never be at their best.

  3. asimonetti88 - Mar 22, 2013 at 2:01 PM

    Man I hope the Lakers don’t trade him this offseason. No way they get equal value back on him.

  4. acdc363 - Mar 22, 2013 at 2:20 PM

    Simmons said it best

    “to Mike D’Antoni, if your system is telling you to play Earl Clark more than Pau Gasol, get a new system!”


    • dirtydavis - Mar 22, 2013 at 5:35 PM

      Simmons is a tool

      • lakerloather - Mar 22, 2013 at 7:12 PM

        You know he isn’t referring to Gene Simmons right?

    • money2long - Mar 22, 2013 at 7:34 PM

      awesome quote

  5. lakerluver - Mar 22, 2013 at 4:28 PM

    Banner number 17, here we come!! Ok…maybe not. However, a healthy LAKERS team can challenge any team in the league in a playoffs series. As for Pau, he will forever be loved in LAKERLAND for helping hang two more banners in the Staples, but it’s a foregone conclusion…unless he lights it up in the playoffs, he will be traded. Someone will want that expiring contract. And Pau’s still pretty good, though we haven’t seen it much this season.

  6. lakerfan4life - Mar 22, 2013 at 7:12 PM

    I remember last summer, the whole excitement behind getting Dwight was everyone was fantasizing about the day when the two big guys would play together. When Phil was coaching, we were all salivating for the day when both Pau and Bynum were both healthy and playing together. But Bynum was always injured, and it never really happened. So when Dwight came, there was such great hope…

    …which all died the minute they hired ‘No D’Antoni as coach. He has no clue how to maximize those two players together. We will never see the potential that could have been.

  7. pistolpete0903 - Mar 22, 2013 at 7:50 PM

    Vow the lakers fans are high on optimism. I mean, from an objective fan, it is clear that they would have trouble against the Thunder/Spurs.

    • lucifershuttlesworth - Mar 22, 2013 at 8:24 PM

      i agree and think that you can safely add Memphis and Denver to that list as the Lakers have compiled a 2-10 record against those two, OKC and SA so far this year.

  8. zillabeast - Mar 22, 2013 at 10:56 PM

    I’ve got this odd feeling we’ll see the Lakers and Heat go to 7 games in the finals. One last Hurrah.

  9. 24thesho - Mar 23, 2013 at 6:47 AM

    The only time I would “hate” (in a sports way, of course) is when Spain plays the U.S.A. in the Olympics and the World Basketball Championships, but, when you have a first rate forward like Pau Gasol on your team you don’t bench him for the likes of an Earl Clark in the way D’Antoni did (however well Clark was playing), just on the respect level. True, Gasol was kind of soft in that western conference series against the Mavericks a few years ago but he’s still an top tier forward who has won the gold medal and 2 NBA rings; D’Anotoni has not won anything by comparison. I really do hope Gasol shuts D’Antoni’s trap and wins MVP, though, winning the MVP part is highly unlikely but it would be great to see the expression on D’Antoni’s face if Gasol did start a 24 point, 10 rebounds and 6 assists streak for the remainder of the season.

    • 24thesho - Mar 23, 2013 at 11:51 AM

      And then they lose……, to the Wizards.

    • jimeejohnson - Mar 23, 2013 at 12:49 PM

      I think you’re lying. D’Antoni was an assistant coach on the gold medal winning 2012 Olympic basketball team.

  10. omniusprime - Mar 23, 2013 at 8:45 AM

    Thanks Kurt Helin for finally getting a clue that the Lakers are better off with Pau Gasol than without him. Earl Clark looked good early when he was starting because no team took him seriously. Now we’ve seen that Earl is energetic but not quite savvy enough to be a starter.

    Unfortunately the Lakers sucked as a team last night. The Big 5 need to get their act together and play good team ball. Dumbtoni has to do a much better job getting the team ready so they don’t lose to the lowly wizards.

    Thanks Dr. Buss, Rest in Peace!!! Fire Dumbtoni!!! Trade Trash Nash and Steve Flake!!!

    • Kurt Helin - Mar 23, 2013 at 11:35 AM

      That Wizards loss wasn’t on D’Antoni. His game plan clearly worked when the players tried and cared.

  11. paulhargis53 - Mar 23, 2013 at 10:04 AM

    Lakerluver! What are you doing back here spreading your inane bs for!?

    You don’t get to talk. You bailed on your team and this website when the lakers were at their lowest because you coyldnt take it. Thanks for proving to EVERYONE what I said was true, you’re the worst kind if fan there is.Disappear when they are bad, run away crying , now running your mouth when they MIGHT make the playoffs…you’re pathetic. Garbage fan and a garbage person. P.S. Kind of weird you and bozos were gone at the same time…..thanks for proving me right on that too.
    Get lost, nobody wants you on here. 40 year-old men behaving like 13 year old girls is something none of us want to read anymore. This site is so much better without you on it….kind of like this planet…

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