Pivot Points: Pau Gasol's Return Brings Relief For L.A. Lakers

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IJanuary 16, 2010

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 15:  Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers runs off the court during the game against the Los Angeles Clippers on January 15, 2010 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 126-86. 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)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Same building, same teams, and a drastically different outcome as the Los Angeles Lakers avenged an earlier loss to the Clippers by beating them 126-86 while celebrating the return of Pau Gasol.

There were no congratulatory hugs from Baron Davis this time as the Lakers extended a three point halftime lead into a 40-point blowout on the backs of stars Kobe Bryant and Gasol.

Gasol, coming off of a six game absence due to a hamstring injury, showed no signs of rust as his 20 point, six rebound, three assist effort breathed life into a Laker team who had struggled mightily in his absence.

His impact could be felt throughout the team as the Lakers were aggressive on defense, re-discovered their rhythm on offense, and finally won a game that was decided long before the final horn sounded.

Even center Andrew Bynum quieted the questions about the ability of Gasol and himself to coexist, at least for one night, as he contributed 20 points of his own.

Bynum looked comfortable in the flow of the game and was the most efficient Laker starter on the court, going 8-13 from the floor while pulling down seven rebounds to help the Lakers to an advantage on the boards.

While the Lakers basked in the return of Gasol, the Clippers bemoaned the continued absence of center Chris Kaman, who was out with a back injury. But even his presence may not have helped the other team from Los Angeles on this night.

The Lakers were visibly upset about the way the Clippers responded to their win nine days earlier, and the tensions boiled over early in the third quarter in a confrontation between Davis and Laker guard Derek Fisher.

In the Clippers' earlier win they celebrated as if they had clinched a playoff spot, and even though the Lakers remained silent on the issue, you could tell it was a moment that was stained in their memories.

That tension bubbled to the surface when Davis, who was called for a flagrant foul for elbowing Gasol in the chest, was confronted by Fisher and the two had to be separated before play could resume.

It was more fight than the Lakers had shown in two losses to Portland and San Antonio, and even in a win against the Milwaukee Bucks, and it seemed to suggest a revival of the edge the Lakers had been missing.

Bryant scored a game-high 30 points and showed no ill-effects from nagging back spasms which have plagued him recently, but the story this night was Gasol and how much he elevates the Lakers when on the court.

He simply gives Los Angeles an element few other teams can boast of, and when teamed with Bynum, the Lakers have arguably the biggest and most skilled post players in the entire NBA.

A fact that may be lost amid the Lakers recent struggles is their 31-9 record, which remains the best mark in the Western Conference and the NBA.

Much ado about nothing has been made about the Lakers recently, with observers questioning their heart, pride, and even chemistry, but perspective renders most of that to senseless drivel in the face of the facts.

Los Angeles ended a trying week in the same place as they started, and Kobe exhibited an ability to play through the type of pain that has sidelined so many of his contemporaries in the league.

More importantly, the Lakers displayed their capabilities with a full roster, which may be the most talented in the league, plus they showed they can find ways to win in the absence of primary players as their victory in Dallas proved.

So the Lakers approach the halfway point of the season Monday against the Orlando Magic with their roster intact, and a renewed confidence in their quest for a repeat championship.

And regardless of what happens Monday, Los Angeles is assured of finishing the first half of the season in the same manner as they started it, with the best record in the NBA.


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