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Pau Gasol reclaims middle ground for Lakers

Moving back to center because of Andrew Bynum's injury, the 7-foot All-Star produces 31 points and 14 rebounds in Lakers' victory over Knicks.

February 03, 2009|Mike Bresnahan

NEW YORK — Ready or not, Pau Gasol was back in a familiar position.

Andrew Bynum's absence for the next eight to 12 weeks because of a torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee made Gasol the obvious candidate to move from power forward to center, where he played 48 games for the Lakers last season after arriving via trade from Memphis.

Gasol got off to a strong start Monday against the undersized New York Knicks, collecting 31 points and 14 rebounds primarily against 6-foot-9 power forward David Lee in a 126-117 Lakers win.

Recently selected as a reserve for his second All-Star game, Gasol seemed at home at power forward this season, averaging 17.6 points and nine rebounds a game coming into Monday.

How will he do against the bigger, brawnier types?

"There are situations that obviously will be a challenge -- Shaq [Shaquille O'Neal], Yao [Ming]," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "Those kind of guys that have Pau probably by 30, 40 pounds are going to be a little more difficult. But he's very nifty and he has the ability to do things against them."

Gasol, listed at 7 feet and 250 pounds, helped lead the Lakers to the top record in the Western Conference and into the NBA Finals last season, though he struggled there against the Boston Celtics.

He made 12 of 17 shots Monday night and added five assists.

"With Andrew going down, we lost that post presence that he's been giving us so well the last two to three weeks," Gasol said. "I play center when Andrew's on the bench and I'm in the post a lot. I feel good playing that position. I adjusted to the power forward position well and I'll go back to it as soon as we get Andrew back."

Lamar Odom took Gasol's spot at power forward, appearing in the starting lineup for only the second time this season.

He had six points and 14 rebounds Monday and will do "very well" in transitioning back to starter's status, Jackson predicted. Including the playoffs, Odom started all 98 games in which he played last season.

"I think he plays better with time than short minutes," Jackson said.

More Kobe

In addition to breaking the single-game Madison Square Garden record of 60 points set by former Knicks forward Bernard King in 1984, Kobe Bryant surpassed Michael Jordan's 14-year-old record of 55 points by a Knicks opponent at the Garden. Bryant finished with 61 points on 19-for-31 shooting.

"That was ridiculous," Bynum said. "He's breaking all kind of records . . . congratulations for that."

Bryant's first two points in his career were at Madison Square Garden, a pair of free throws on Nov. 5, 1996, in a 98-92 Lakers win.

"The building is special because it's the last one left," Bryant said. "You have the Boston Garden, which I never played in, the Forum and then there's this building. This is the last one that holds all the memories and all the great players. Coming up the elevator . . . [you're] thinking about Willis Reed and about Jerry West and all the great rivalries they had in this building. It just makes it very special."

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