The McTen: The road begins with Gasol

February, 5, 2011
2/05/11
10:43
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
Here are your 10 additional things to take away from the Lakers' 101-95 win against the New Orleans Hornets on Saturday ...

1

Maybe the Lakers made a trade after all. They swapped the slumping Pau Gasol for his former MVP-candidate self.

Gasol scored a season-high 34 points against New Orleans, going 13-of-17 from the floor and grabbing 10 rebounds.

After averaging just 10.5 points in the Lakers' consecutive home losses to Sacramento and Boston, Gasol is now averaging 26.3 points and 11 rebounds in his last three games after Kobe Bryant had a conversation with him encouraging the recently minted four-time All-Star to be more aggressive.

"I think he played terrific," said Bryant who scored 32 points of his own, running the Lakers' record to 5-1 all-time when he and Gasol both score 30-plus points. "He’s really asserting himself. It’s something that we need from him. I think he understands that now. I think the switch went off. We’re going to see him continuing to attack."

Gasol was asked if the recent uptick was solely due to his discussion with Bryant.

"I don’t know," Gasol said. "I don’t know if it’s a coincidence because from that game especially in that game against Houston when Andrew [Bynum] was out, I knew I had to be more aggressive. I knew I was going to play 40-plus minutes and I was a little tired also myself."

Gasol clarified what he meant by "tired," putting to bed any speculation that his decreased productivity was due to lingering hamstring issues or any other health problems.

"No health [concerns] luckily," Gasol said. "My body is feeling good and I’m proving it. It’s just a matter of we were in a slump for a while and I wasn’t getting very involved. Obviously that’s frustrating but you have to find, you have to search for that [opportunity] sometimes instead of waiting for it."

Bryant said he thinks Gasol can keep up the elevated level of play for the rest of the season. The Lakers have 31 games remaining before the playoffs, what amounts to basically a college season.

"I don’t see why not," Bryant said. "He has the skill to do it. It’s just more of a mindset more than anything. He’s such a nice person, he wants other guys to be involved and all this other stuff, but that’s not necessarily what’s best for our team."

Said Gasol: "I’ve been shooting the ball well the last three games but I got to continue, continue to be aggressive, be assertive and utilize my talents. Make sure I’m doing what I’m capable of doing out there, not watching."

Lakers head coach Phil Jackson hadn't heard about Bryant's "Black Swan" comments regarding Gasol.

"Kobe did that?" Jackson asked. "I talk to him every day about being more aggressive."

Then the 65-year old coach revealed he's still hip enough to watch "Saturday Night Live."

"I saw Jim Carrey as the Black Swan," Jackson quipped. "I don’t want Pau to be like that."

2

Derek Fisher has built his reputation as a guy with a penchant for making big plays on the offensive end late in ballgames, but Saturday he did it with his D.

"He made some good rotations, the type of rotations we ask players to get after and it got the ball back for us," Jackson said.

Fisher made two huge defensive plays in the games final minutes to preserve the Lakers' lead. First he stripped David West for a steal with 2:36 remaining and L.A. up by five. Then he drew a charge on Chris Paul with 1:07 left and the Lakers still clinging to a five-point cushion.

The guy who hit the Lakers' only buzzer-beating game winner this season against the Clippers was asked if defense can be clutch.

"Yes, no question," Fisher said. "Just helping your team win is a clutch thing to do.I think you just have to be willing to stick your nose in there and compete and just make a difference. It may not always be on the offensive end but you have to make an impact when you’re out there on the floor. That’s what I try to do."

The Lakers coaching staff has struggled with getting its players to take charges. Last year during the playoffs, ESPN's Shelley Smith reported that Lakers players were actually paid $50 per charge as an incentive.

"It’s something we’re making a conscious effort of doing," said Bryant. "We have guys on the team that don’t take charges. I’ve never been a charge-taker, I’m more of a ball-stripper. Ron’s never been a charge-taker, Lamar’s never been a charge-taker, but we’re doing it."

The 15-year veteran said he was setting up Paul, the All-Star starter, for the offensive foul.

"It was a couple plays before where I was playing him and he got back to his right hand and from that point on I really wanted to lock in and try and make him go back to his left," Fisher said. "I felt that everything he was doing he was getting to his right and that’s when he was able to set situations up so I just kind of played him to go to that right hand again and I’m sitting right there on it."

3

The Lakers had a season-low four turnovers. In a related note, the Hornets had zero steals for the first time all year. Taking care of the ball led to seven more shot attempts in the game for L.A. (New Orleans had 12 turnovers).

"It was a slow pace game," Jackson said. "They like to play at that pace. We thought we got into that pace and we played pretty good with the ball tonight."

What was the key?

"Just take care of the ball and make simple plays," Bryant said. "We didn’t have to force anything. We just kept the game in front of us."

4

Playing in his second game after sitting out against Houston with soreness in his left knee, Bynum had limited impact, finishing with 12 points and seven rebounds despite New Orleans' starting center Emeka Okafor not playing.

"I feel alright," Bynum said. "I need a little bit more time but I’ll get back."

Before the game, Jackson commented on Charles Barkley being critical of the Lakers' 23-year old big man, saying that Bynum should be an All-Star type player by now in his sixth season.

"Oh, obviously our fans even see that in Andrew," Jackson said. "He was, what, second in voting [for Western Conference centers] by the end of the whole thing? So the fans see it and they’re the resident experts."

Jackson was asked where Bynum needs to improve.

"We’re always about defense," Jackson said. "That’s what we’re about -- getting in position, blocking shots, being active, challenging people that come in the lane, those type of things."

5

Ron Artest finished with just five points on 2-of-7 shooting and four rebounds, but he made an impact in two major defensive statistical categories, finishing with three steals and three blocks.

"I'm not into stats, it doesn't interest me that much," Artest said, shrugging off the impact of his numbers. "All that matters is if we win."

The three blocks tied Artest's season high.

6

The Hornets shot 100 percent at the foul line, but they only had four attempts. The Lakers, meanwhile, were 23-of-27 from the charity stripe.

"Twenty-seven to four free throws," said Hornets head coach Monty Williams. "I mean, that's hard to do in a pick-up game. To me, it's hard to explain that. It's hard to be that physical and we only get four free throws. I think our guys were competing their butts off tonight and I thought that we deserved a little bit more, whatever you want to call it, but I think we deserved to go to the line more tonight."

7

The Lakers took care of the first step of their seven-game road trip and it doesn't get any easier Monday against Memphis. The Grizzlies are one of just two teams (along with San Antonio) that have beaten the Lakers twice this season. Memphis downed the Lakers by two on their home court when L.A. was in the midst of a four-game losing streak and by 19 at the Staples Center in the beginning of January.

"It’s important to win the first one and build on it," said Gasol. "Now the second step is built on what you started, but it’s not a guarantee. So we just have to understand the next few games are going to be tough. They’re going to be challenging, each and every one of them, and we got to play our best."

Added Jackson: "Our focus has to go back to what Memphis has done to us the last two times. They’ve used speed and quickness, penetration that they’ve gotten from [Mike] Conley and they got us to turn over the basketball a couple times. They made us look bad I thought on our home court the last time so we have a little revenge about Memphis."

8

Seen in the locker room: Trevor Ariza, who sat out the game with a right ankle sprain, visited the Lakers locker room postgame to see his old teammates. He brought his young son, Tajh, with him. Several of the Lakers tried to engage Ariza's son in conversation with no luck as Tajh was acting shy. Lamar Odom had a trick up his sleeve, offering Tajh a sugared peachy ring from his stock of candy to get the kid to smile.

9

Quote of the night: "You get in a good rhythm, you start reading what they’re doing offensively and you start taking their strengths away. It’s a good feeling." -- Bryant on the Lakers' D helping them finish the game on a 9-3 run in the final 3:43 after the Hornets tied the game 92-92. New Orleans was 1-of-6 from the field as a team down the stretch with two turnovers.
10


Stats of the night: Despite the loss, New Orleans controlled the glass 42-37 and the Hornets' bench outscored the Lakers' subs 39-15 ... The Lakers have struggled with transition defense this season yet held the Hornets to zero fastbreak points ... New Orleans shot 13-of-20 (65 percent) in the third quarter but just 23-of-56 in the other three (41.1 percent) ... The Lakers are 29-3 when scoring more than 100 points ... After averaging 12 minutes per game in his last 11 games played, Luke Walton racked up his second straight DNP-CD ... The 18,426 fans in attendance marked the largest crowd ever at New Orleans Arena since Hurricane Katrina.

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Dave McMenamin

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Nick Young
PTS AST STL MIN
17.9 1.5 0.7 28.3
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Hill 7.4
AssistsK. Bryant 6.3
StealsK. Bryant 1.2
BlocksW. Johnson 1.0