- Dave McMenamin, ESPN Staff Writer
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LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Lakers got another win Tuesday by beating the New Orleans Hornets 111-106, but they might have lost some of the team cohesion they built up over the course of their three-game winning streak.
In what has become a recurring theme since Mike D'Antoni took over as Lakers coach, forward Pau Gasol was benched in the fourth quarter against New Orleans.
The former four-time All-Star, who recently bristled when moved to a bench role as D'Antoni placed Earl Clark in the starting lineup, expressed his displeasure after the game.
"I'm a competitor, I'm a guy that thinks I bring a lot to the table, and not being on the floor is something that I don't like, I don't appreciate," Gasol said.
Gasol had seven points, seven rebounds and seven assists in 21 minutes as the Lakers built an 83-73 lead through the first three quarters.
"It's a challenge," Gasol said when asked about toeing the line and accepting D'Antoni's decision so that he doesn't take away from the team while still defending his personal ability. "We're challenged every day, and I'm challenged every day to keep my calm and keep my peace and not let my emotions take over my words."
The 12-year veteran has been praised by teammates such as Kobe Bryant for striking a balance between speaking out about his unwanted switch in the lineup to the team's substitute center, and going out and playing hard and setting a good example for everyone.
Speaking out after a win against the Hornets might seem like poor timing from Gasol, but even while begrudgingly accepting a bench role, he stated his desire to continue to play in crunch time.
"I think the finishing is more important (than starting)," Gasol said recently. "I think the best players should finish off games. That's just the way it's got to be. When the game is on the line, you want to be on the floor. That's more important."
It was the same sentiment that led Gasol to be upset Tuesday.
"It's fun to win but when a team comes back on you the way the Hornets did tonight and you are not there as a high-quality player and as a competitor, it's frustrating," Gasol said.
The Hornets cut the Lakers' 18-point lead with 5:56 remaining down to just one with 2:05 to go as Gasol watched from the sidelines.
Gasol was asked in Spanish whether he could ever envision a time when he would be OK with sitting during the fourth quarter and tersely replied "Nunca," meaning never.
D'Antoni said Gasol stayed on the bench because of the Hornets personnel who were in the game in the fourth quarter.
"They went small," D'Antoni said. "I couldn't get Pau back in there because of the lineup change."
7dEthan Sherwood Strauss