What Pau Gasol's Prolonged Absence Means for the Lakers

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What Pau Gasol's Prolonged Absence Means for the Lakers
Harry How/Getty Images

Even after Dwight Howard’s shoulder problems and Jordan Hill’s hip injury, things have gotten worse for the Lakers’ low-post crew. An hour before their matchup against the Boston Celtics on Thursday night, the Lakers announced that forward-center Pau Gasol will sit out for at least six to eight weeks with a torn plantar fascia.

Though Dwight Howard was starting over Gasol when healthy, his shoulder problems were forcing him to the bench and Gasol was putting up great numbers as a starter. The 32-year-old veteran was averaging 13.4 points and eight rebounds per game before he endured the tear to the bottom of his right foot.

In response to the announcement, Kobe Bryant told press after the loss to the Celtics on Thursday, “I think L.A.’s kind of seeing how much we miss Pau and what he brings to the table in his skill set,” reported the Los Angeles Times.

The Lakers will certainly miss Gasol, seeing as they are already short on help at the low post. Center Jordan Hill hasn’t played since January 6 because of a hip injury and will miss the rest of the reason, as the Los Angeles Times disclosed.

That means, first and foremost, that Howard needs to get healthy and move past his shoulder problems. He’s looked pretty strong recently in Gasol’s absence. Against Miami last night, Howard played a whopping 41 minutes and grabbed nine rebounds and 15 points. He also totaled 12 points and 11 rebounds in the Lakers’ less-than-inspiring win against Charlotte on February 8.

Yet he has to get better on the offensive. All 11 of his rebounds against Charlotte were defensive rebounds.

Kobe Bryant said of Howard and his shoulder injury, “He’s doing the best he can. Obviously he’s limited in what he can do for us as opposed to what he was doing when he was in Orlando, but he’s still giving it a good effort,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Harry How/Getty Images

Furthermore, Howard’s shoulder isn’t the only problem he has to clean up. The center’s clash with longtime Lakers guard Bryant has consistently made headlines, and Howard’s father even tried to intervene, as reported the Los Angeles Times.

On Saturday, Bryant responded cryptically to the hype surrounding his difficulty getting along with Howard: “Honestly, I’m done talking about it. There’s nothing to talk about. I’m done with it. There’s nothing to discuss. It’s silly.” He continued, “All year, [media] people have been trying to hang on to stuff. He’s just got to go do his job—just rebound and defend.”

If the Lakers want to stop disappointing Los Angeles fans with their mediocre play, Howard needs to start acting like a team player and he needs to get along better with Bryant.

With Gasol out, forwards Earl Clark and Antawn Jamison and center Robert Sacre need to seriously step up and help Howard on the low post. Earl Clark played well against Miami, tallying 18 points and nine rebounds in 42 minutes, but his season statistics are less impressive. For 2012-13, he averages 6.2 rebounds and 7.8 points in 22 minutes of play.

Hopefully for the Lakers, his impressive February play is an indication of improvement.

Jamison also picked up decent time as forward during the Lakers' game against Miami, playing for 25 minutes but only grabbing two rebounds and three points. He was equally unimpressive in rebounding against Boston on Thursday, picking up only two rebounds in 22 minutes of play.

If Howard has to sit out when his shoulder starts hurting, the 36-year-old Jamison will undoubtedly have to pick up some of the slack. Sacre is a mediocre replacement for Howard at center, and his numbers are disappointing.

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The 23-year-old Canadian averages 1.6 points, 1.3 rebounds and 7.8 minutes per game during the 2012-13 season. And, his recent game statistics don’t really indicate any improvement. Against Boston, Sacre played only five minutes and picked up two rebounds and a meager two points. The center didn’t see any play against Charlotte on Friday.

If Howard doesn’t return to complete health, the responsibility for the low post will fall on Clark, Jamison and Sacre. Moreover, the Lakers can’t count on Gasol coming back soon, if at all. As it stands, Gasol will play only the final 13 games of the regular season if he takes six weeks off, and he’ll be back for the last seven if his recovery takes eight weeks.

Even with Gasol, the Lakers were a disunited team with the problems between Howard and Bryant. If the Lakers want to recover from the blow of losing Gasol, they need to start playing and acting like a team. 

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