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Lakers' Pau Gasol asked to step up for team

With several players injured or recovering from injuries, Coach Phil Jackson and assistant Brian Shaw want the center to be more of a force when the regular season begins Tuesday.

October 23, 2010|By Broderick Turner

The bar has been raised for Pau Gasol — by Lakers Coach Phil Jackson and assistant Brian Shaw.

They want him to be more of a force for the Lakers when the regular season starts Tuesday night at Staples Center against the Houston Rockets.

Jackson and Shaw maintained that Gasol has to be The Man for perhaps the first month of the season because, as Shaw said, "We're kind of limping going into the season."

They want to see more from Gasol in the regular season than what he displayed during the exhibition season, when Jackson lamented once during training camp that the All-Star has "been on vacation."

Shaw, who was in charge of the Lakers the last two exhibition games because Jackson was home with flu symptoms, didn't shy away from critiquing Gasol.

When asked whether Jackson was correct in suggesting that the Lakers will see a different Gasol on Tuesday night from the one they saw during the exhibition season, Shaw was pointed in his response.

"I certainly hope so," Shaw said. "Offensively, I know that Pau can get it done. He's as talented as any big man in the league. I think what we want to see more from him is more of a presence on the defensive end, especially the defensive boards."

Why has so much emphasis been placed on Gasol?

Kobe Bryant still is trying to find his way on a surgically repaired right knee that limited his effectiveness during the exhibition season.

Center Andrew Bynum won't be ready until late November while he recovers from right knee surgery that kept him out of the entire training camp.

Lamar Odom missed the final exhibition game Friday night because of a swollen left thumb, swollen nose and tight back.

Backup center Theo Ratliff missed Friday night's game because of a swollen left knee.

Luke Walton didn't play in the second half of the final exhibition game because he aggravated his strained right hamstring.

That could leave Gasol as the focal point of the Lakers, who took Saturday off before they resume practicing Sunday.

"They [Jackson and Shaw] are ambitious," Gasol said. "I've responded pretty well to different challenges in my career. But again, whatever is needed, whatever is asked of me, I'll try to step up and deliver."

Gasol quickly pointed out that it wasn't as if his play during the exhibition season was shabby.

He averaged 17 points on 46.5% shooting, 7.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 29.6 minutes.

However, Gasol was willing to admit that his game could be sharper.

"I'm sure it needs some tuneup and sharpening," he said. "But I'm not discontent with where I'm at right now. Like I said, I look forward to the start-up Tuesday and to be really aggressive on both ends and step up the intensity level.

"That's going to be the key for us to get going that way to be intense on both ends of the court. And it starts with me too."

Bryant making progress

Bryant didn't play in Thursday night's exhibition game against the Golden State Warriors so he could rest his knee.

So he asked Shaw for more minutes during Friday night's exhibition game.

Bryant played 34 minutes 14 seconds, including almost two minutes in the overtime.

"After the first one or two times up the court [in overtime], I was like, 'Naw, I don't want it to be on me [if he gets injured],'" Shaw said, laughing.

Bryant shot a dismal 28.2% (24 for 85) from the field, 17.2% (five for 29) from three-point range in 21.6 minutes in seven exhibition games.

But Shaw did see some progress from Bryant.

"He had a little more bounce in his step," Shaw said. "So that's an improvement.

"It's a work in progress for him trying to figure out how he's going to loosen himself up to get ready, what type of strength he has with that knee. He's progressing, probably slower than what he would like, but he's coming along."

broderick.turner@latimes.com

twitter.com/BA_Turner

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