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Pau Gasol's Meeting with Mike D'Antoni Will Make Life with Dwight Howard Easy

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 20:  Pau Gasol #16 and Dwight Howard #12 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrate after the Lakers survive the last shot attempt by the Brooklyn Nets at Staples Center on November 20, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 95-90.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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Josh MartinNBA Lead WriterDecember 21, 2012

Forget trade rumors and public complaints. Apparently, all it took to settle one of the most perplexing conflicts of the 2012-13 NBA season was a bit of friendly conversation over a scrumptious meal.

According to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times, that's how Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni and Pau Gasol chose to hash out their differences. D'Antoni approached his besmirched big man with the idea before the two sat down to dinner at a Manhattan Beach restaurant on December 19th.

The topic of discussion? Not just the usual "this and that." As Gasol relayed, the two attempted to come to an understanding about the player's role in the coach's system going forward:

"It was to make sure we're in the same boat. We're trying to reach the same goal. Let's communicate. Hopefully, we can meet halfway on some points." 

Per Bresnahan's sources, that meant making sure that Pau would be on the floor during crunch time and that he would get to play more minutes near to the basket, where he is most comfortable.

The discussion, said D'Antoni, wasn't so much about how much Gasol got the ball as where he got it:

"We didn't even really talk about [number of] touches because I don't believe in that. But I believe in him being involved."

It should come as some comfort to Lakers fans that Gasol and D'Antoni have such clear and open lines of communication, though such comfort will remain cold unless the conversation leads to tangible improvement. The hard work of figuring out how Pau can coexist playing with Dwight Howard still lies ahead.

However, if D'Antoni plays his cards right—by staggering minutes in the middle between Pau and Dwight and having them work the high-low when they are on the court together—he should have two happy giants.

And, in turn, a winning operation on his hands.

Both statistics and suppositions suggest that Gasol shouldn't share the floor with Howard. According to NBA.com, Pau's numbers are better almost across the board when Dwight sits.

He scores more points, pulls down more rebounds and gets to the free-throw line more often per 48 minutes. He shoots far better at the hoop, as well—68 percent (17-of-25) without Howard, compared to 55 percent (22-of-40) with him.

The pairing also wouldn't appear to be all that good for the Lakers on the whole. Per NBA.com, L.A. has outscored the opposition by just two points in the 430-plus minutes that Gasol and Howard have played together.

The results from the Lakers' 101-100 win over the Charlotte Bobcats on December 19th—Gasol's return from an eight-game knee-related layoff—doesn't paint a pretty picture, either.

According to Popcorn Machine, the Lakers were outscored by 22 points in the time Pau and Dwight spent together. Meanwhile, they owned an 18-point edge when Pau played without Dwight and a five-point advantage when Howard had the stage to himself.

In other words, the split between Pau-and-Dwight time and Pau-or-Dwight time was the difference in the outcome.  

This shouldn't come as any great surprise. When Dwight's in the middle, Pau is typically left only with mid-to-long-range looks. These shots are not only low-percentage, but also pull Pau farther from the basket, where he might otherwise snatch offensive rebounds and tally points with put-backs.

The close-range numbers also comport with the reality of pairing two All-Star centers together in today's NBA.

What few attempts Gasol draws at the rim are bound to be more difficult because Dwight draws a crowd into the paint. Therefore, most shots taken by Pau next to the basket are bound to be contested by more defenders, some of whom were originally concerned with Howard.

To be sure, Pau's weak knees may have played a part in all of this. Gasol's tendinitis turned normally simple finishes into frustrating sojourns to the hoop by sapping him of agility and leaping ability.

Still, it's tough to ignore the notion that D'Antoni should divvy up minutes in the middle whenever possible. That way, each of his bigs can occupy the low post—and run D'Antoni's patented spread pick-and-roll—without impedance.

Not that they're at all incapable of playing together. They have been teammates for all of 18 regular-season games so far, yet are skilled enough—individually and in tandem—to have registered many an impressive hook-up.

Like this one, for Dwight's first (unofficial) points as a Laker:

Pau's ability as a passer out of the high post and experience operating with another talented center have made him particularly valuable in this regard.

Gasol and Andrew Bynum ranked among the NBA's most prolific alley-oop combinations last season, and Howard (when healthy) is a far superior athlete and finisher.

As seen here, during L.A.'s latest victory over Charlotte:

Pau and Dwight still have quite a way to go before they are both fully fit and in sync with one another, but that hasn't stopped them from stringing together plenty of crisp connections in the interim.

They have done it in the first half, when the result is still in play:

And in the second half, when the Lakers are pulling away:

And in crunch time, when the game is on the line:

Beyond the rhyme, there is plenty of reason for D'Antoni to craft a strategy for playing these two together and apart. Gasol and Howard constitute the Lakers' biggest advantage over the rest of the NBA—two fleet-footed bigs who can pound the ball inside, crash the boards and protect the rim against all comers.

Surely, the pair will have to spend some time together, especially if D'Antoni is to abide by Gasol's wish of playing the most meaningful minutes in the fourth quarter.

Lest he bench Dwight and risk upsetting the 26-year-old on whose meaty shoulders rests the future of the Lakers franchise. In that case, D'Antoni would have to pick up yet another dinner tab to smooth things over.

Or, if Howard and Gasol struggle to make ends meet on the court, have those two work through their issues on their own.

And figure out how to split the bill for themselves.

 

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