HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The days of both Pau Gasol and Steve Nash rocking high fashion on the Los Angeles Lakers’ bench are coming to an end.
Gasol is reportedly ready to make his return to action tonight against Charlotte, provided he gets medical clearance after this morning’s shootaround practice, ending his eight-game injury hiatus (knees) just in time for Christmas. Nash joined him on the practice floor Monday and is expected back in action for the Christmas Day showdown at Staples Center against the New York Knicks.
His return will end a near-two month stint of inactivity after Nash suffered a small crack in his fibula on Halloween.
“It’s starting to get exciting just because I’m able to do some things,” Nash told reporters after that practice. “The majority of the last six weeks have been pretty inactive. So it’s nice to be able to get out there with the guys and just see some light at the end of the tunnel.
“It’s definitely sore and it’s definitely going to be a process — not just to get back to complete health but also to get back into shape. But I have to take what I can get. To be on the court sweating and playing and just working on my game a bit is important to me.”
No one is more excited about the return of these two than Lakers’ ironman Kobe Bryant, whose averaging 42 minutes a night in his past six games in an effort to will the Lakers out of their funk and back into the mix with the other contenders in the Western Conference.
Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni would love to unwrap a fully healthy roster against his former team on Christmas, as well. The 3-5 record the Lakers have compiled since Gasol went down has given fuel to the critics who say that this team and coach are a mismatched fit and destined to disappoint a fan base that prepared itself for a championship parade.
As much noise as we’ve made here about the Lakers’ ineptitude early on this season, there is plenty of time for them to turn things around. And it could start in the next seven days with a healthy and rejuvenated Gasol back in the fold and an inspired and crafty-as-ever Nash finally at the controls of D’Antoni’s offense. That leaves us with the same dilemma the Lakers have been facing since D’Antoni took over; how to utilize two 7-footers in the post in a scheme that requires just one.
And that’s why the only man capable of fixing this problem is D’Antoni himself, as Ben Bolch of The Los Angeles Times explores:
“You know, we can’t put 15 guys down there in the post,” D’Antoni said. “We can’t do it. It doesn’t work. Because if you’re posting him up, it means you’re not posting Dwight [Howard] up and then you get criticized for not posting Dwight up.
“We play Laker basketball. That ball is shared, that ball moves, we’ll score in the first 16 seconds and then after that we’ll post people up, we’ll get people in the right spots to finish off the shot clock.”
Gasol has long talked about his desire to handle the ball more near the basket during a season in which he has averaged a career-low 12.6 points while twice being benched in the fourth quarter. Is he clear about his role upon his return?
“Still a facilitator,” Gasol said with a chuckle. “Still just giving balance to our team out there and making good decisions, whether it’s scoring, passing or penetrating.”
Is that OK with him?
“Yeah,” he said. “As long as we win, as long as it works, I’m OK with everything. When it doesn’t translate to wins, when it translates to the team struggling, then I’m not that OK with it.”
I’ve said from the beginning that the Lakers would need time, and lots of it, to work through their issues. The injuries to Nash and Gasol, not to mention the coaching change, have only added to that need. Christmas was the initial target date for them to show what they were truly about, if they were going to be legitimate contenders or just play that role on paper.
So the deadline is being extended for these healthier Lakers. A few weeks to get everyone acclimated in the new system with the ideal point guard to run said system buys them a little more time.
But if they don’t have it together by Martin Luther King Jr. Day …