Pau Gasol has been the overlooked star of the Lakers, the one always taken for granted, if not slapped with a reputation of being soft from time to time.
He struggled mightily in the NBA Finals last season against the physically intimidating Boston Celtics but has been nothing short of strong against the Orlando Magic in the Finals a year later.
He had 24 points and 10 rebounds Sunday in Game 2, yet another contribution toward the Lakers' cause.
He also changed assignments numerous times throughout the game, from three-point marksman Rashard Lewis to bull-like center Dwight Howard because Andrew Bynum was limited to 16 minutes because of foul trouble.
Gasol often single-covered Howard, who had only a so-so shooting night, making five of 10 attempts and finishing with 17 points.
"He had to go from guarding a three-point shooter to a brute down low," said Lakers assistant coach Kurt Rambis, who is in charge of the team's defensive scheme. "He's been a big part of our defensive success."
Perhaps it's time to shed whatever label was applied to the third-team All-NBA selection after last season's Finals failure.
"I never really got upset about it," Gasol said. "I think that the media tried to find reasons why things happen. I think I'm hardest on myself than anybody else. Last year, I felt like I fell short at the end. I ran out of strength, I ran out of energy and couldn't deliver the way I wanted to.
"This year, bottom line, we're playing tougher. We understand what it takes to get the championship, and so far we've been doing pretty well."
Howard, all 6 feet 11 and 265 pounds of him, tried to pin Trevor Ariza in the low post late in the fourth quarter, using all his muscle, size and strength.
Ariza, a 6-8, 210-pound small forward, kept moving his body, doing all he could to disrupt Howard.
As soon as Hedo Turkoglu tried to make the entry pass into Howard, Ariza slithered his body around the Orlando center and stole the basketball.
It was one of the 12 steals the Lakers had against the Magic in Game 2, and it was a key part of their defense.
"That means we were doing our jobs when we get steals like that," Ariza said.
Ariza and Derek Fisher led the Lakers with three steals each. Gasol and Kobe Bryant each had two. The Magic had only five as a team.
Fisher also came up with a big steal in overtime, stepping in front of a pass J.J. Redick tried to force inside to Howard.
"We have to help each other," Ariza said. "If somebody else helps, we've all got to help each other out if we want to win."
L.A.'s the place
As expected, the NBA announced Sunday that the 2011 NBA All-Star game would be held at Staples Center.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the game would pump $100 million into the local economy and would be "a great opportunity for us to show off L.A., particularly downtown L.A."
The All-Star game was also in Los Angeles in 2004, representing a quick turnaround for the event to be held in the same city. The All-Star game hasn't been in the same city in such a short time frame since it was in New York in 1954 and 1955.
"We're likely to shorten the rotation a bit because it's getting more difficult to find cities with the kinds of amenities, close hotel accommodations, the convention center and the like, and L.A. has been a popular destination," NBA Commissioner David Stern said. "The last one was a great success, and with L.A. Live and the new hotel construction downtown, it will be even better for us."
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