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NBA

Is Gasol just a role player now?

November 18, 2009|MARK HEISLER | ON THE NBA

Will this season never end?

Oh, I forgot, it just started. The Lakers haven't even put their first team on the floor yet.

NBA seasons are divided into phases, or as we call them in sports journalism, "cliches."

First, we had Opening Night, when both the Lakers and Celtics won, starting their annual Quest to Beat the Bulls' 72-10 Record.

Then we had the Pau Gasol Watch. Gasol, day-to-day because of a strained hamstring, is now up to 22 days, amid reports he might be out until Christmas . . . stemming from Phil Jackson's dry sense of humor that soared over the heads of various media outlets, who took it seriously.

The Pau Watch was rechristened "CSI: Staples" on Tuesday night as Jackson, risking nationwide hysteria, zinged Gasol even more pointedly before the Lakers beat the Pistons, 106-93 . . . the kind of Detroit-on-a-Tuesday matchup that makes you look for subplots.

Jackson, asked whether he thought Gasol might be "gunshy" when he returns, suggested Pau has been gunshy enough before he returned.

"You mean he's a hypochondriac and might be a baby and not come out and play?" said Jackson. "Is that what you're trying to say with that question?"

Of course, Jackson may have felt he owed Gasol that one, not only for taking so long to return, but for making him watch Monday's "CSI: Miami," to see what Pau had been up to during his time off.

In the episode, Gasol pulls an accident victim out of a car.

If you listen closely, Jackson is sure you can hear Pau's hamstring go twang!

"I think he got injured on 'CSI' and he's not telling us the truth," said Jackson. "I watched that program just to see and he dragged that kid out of the car. I'm sure that's where he got his injury.

"I've never watched it before. I was totally amazed that people watch it. I can't believe that people actually watch that stuff. . . .

"You know how those sets are [editor's note: There's one you could only hear from a Lakers coach]. You stand around and stand around. But he said he was stretching the whole time. I told him to keep his night job, what the heck."

This broke up the Lakers press corps. Of course, by now they all may have gotten calls from their desks, saying "SportsCenter," Entertainment Tonight and TMZ took it seriously and led with it, and telling them to file follow-up stories.

In the part that isn't a laugh riot among the Lakers, Gasol may be the key to their cohesion. From the moment he arrived, Bryant has delighted in playing through him, with Gasol's shooting and passing ability opening up all their other options.

Without Gasol, the Lakers have been reduced to posting up Bryant or Andrew Bynum, and standing around and watching them, coming off two losses in which they scored 79 and 91.

Bryant played Tuesday night with a groin pull so bad Jackson thought he would miss several games, not just this one. Kobe is used to carrying Lakers teams by himself, although it had been a while, in the Lakers' twilight years, circa 2005-2007.

Jackson, watching the offense grind to a halt in Sunday's loss to the Rockets, hasn't missed it.

"Kobe has been on a roll in the post," said Jackson, "and he got [Shane] Battier in foul trouble right away and he took Trevor [Ariza] down there and it just didn't work out at all. . . .

"We've been relying on that because it was easy money but we have to get back to the basics."

So Bryant has been taking too much on himself?

"Yeah," said Jackson.

Everything worked better Tuesday night, with the Lakers going for 106. If Gasol's return was yet to be announced, at least it was one day closer.

--

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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