Pau Gasol Critical to Potential Lakers Playoff Run

Josh BenjaminCorrespondent IFebruary 15, 2013

Jan. 30, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA: Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol (16) against the Phoenix Suns at the US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Pau Gasol is still on the shelf with a torn plantar fascia, and the Los Angeles Lakers aren't going to make the postseason without him. Since he was injured against the Brooklyn Nets on Feb. 5, Los Angeles has gone 2-3.

The team has shot 46 percent from the field since losing Gasol, but the low-post presence and defensive intensity in the paint just isn't there anymore. The Spanish seven-footer was averaging 20 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game in February and had posted marks of 16.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per contest over both February and January.

Best-case scenario, the injury is expected to sideline Gasol until at least late March. The Lakers could definitely find a temporary replacement for him, as the team has been linked to the recently waived Louis Amundson, but that still won't be enough for the team to come together on defense and make a strong push for a playoff spot in the highly competitive Western Conference.

Amundson may be able to work the perimeter and play the low post well, averaging 10.6 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per 36 minutes for his career, but he still does not hold a candle to what Gasol can do. He does not have as much size at 6'9", 225 pounds, and his offensive game outside the paint is borderline nonexistent.

Gasol's best work may come in the low post, but he still has a knack for being a solid stretch 4 when called upon. His 7'0", 250-pound frame allows him the ability to drive the lane well when necessary and if he is left wide open on the perimeter, chances are he's going to make a basket.

For his career, he has a highly respectable field-goal percentage of 52 percent. His versatility has helped the Lakers win two championships before, and his competitor's heart makes him an invaluable member of the team.

More importantly, the Lakers have struggled mightily without Gasol in the lineup. He missed eight games with knee tendinitis earlier this season, and Los Angeles went 3-5 without him. Not having point guard Steve Nash didn't help matters, either, but it's clear how much the team missed Gasol's defensive presence.

Fast forward to January, when Gasol missed five games with a concussion. The Lakers went 2-3 over that stretch.

That all being said, it's clear that Los Angeles is a better team when Pau Gasol is in the lineup. With the playoffs fast approaching, it is absolutely critical that he get well and go back to being a force on the court, be it on the wing or in the low post.

The Lakers need him to sink his jumpers consistently, create mismatches on defense and not be afraid to stand and bang under the basket when the situation calls for it. Most important of all, his teammates need him to put the drama of this season behind them.

At that point, Los Angeles can get back to playing like the strong and cohesive unit it was prior to Gasol's injury, when it had won six of its last seven. If a groove can be found and certain chips fall into place, expect the Lakers to ride Gasol's defense and drive to a hard-fought postseason berth.