Despite operating a roster that included both Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol,… (Paul Buck / EPA )
Is Mike D'Antoni trying to break up the Lakers' power couple?
The Lakers coach played Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol together sparingly Tuesday against the Charlotte Bobcats, and the big men were not on the court at the same time at any point in the fourth quarter.
A review of the play-by-play showed that Howard and Gasol played together a total of 16 minutes 30 seconds in Gasol's first game back after a two-week absence due to knee tendinitis. It's not exactly a twin towers approach.
"It's our job to figure out a way for them to play together because they're both really good," D'Antoni said after the Lakers' 101-100 victory at Staples Center. "We could have two 7-footers and have something that people don't have.
"We got to figure that out, and as Pau gets more comfortable and in shape, we will figure it out to a certain extent. I don't know how much. I think they can coexist."
D'Antoni has long preferred to use smaller, quicker lineups as part of his up-tempo offense. He did it Tuesday by using the 6-foot-7 Metta World Peace at power forward off the bench, with Gasol shifting from power forward to center when Howard was out of the game.
Howard logged 35 minutes to Gasol's 29, with the duo together on the floor for only 4:04 in the second half.
Gasol said afterward that he doesn't care which position he plays as long as he's around the basket.
"Mostly I like to be inside and operate from there," he said, "because I feel like I'm one of the best players in the post in the league with my skill set, so I want to be able to utilize it."
That doesn't mean, however, Gasol doesn't want to play alongside Howard whenever he can.
"We're a big couple, we're two talented players, and we can overpower people," Gasol said. "You're talking about having two top big guys in the league and we should take advantage of it."
Gasol finished with 10 points, nine rebounds, five assists and four blocks but sat out the game's final 21/2 minutes. Howard helped preserve the Lakers' third consecutive victory by blocking Kemba Walker's shot near the basket with 5.9 seconds left.
Howard suggested afterward that the splitting up of himself and Gasol might be temporary.
"That was just tonight," said Howard, who had 16 points and 18 rebounds. "We'll get it right. [Gasol] is just getting back into it, so we understand what we have and we'll learn how to play through it."
The Lakers may have put together their best stretch Tuesday when they alternated big men late in the game.
They outscored the Bobcats, 24-16, in the fourth quarter with Gasol and Howard each playing six minutes, none together. D'Antoni said Gasol did not play toward the end of the game only because of his conditioning after an extended layoff.
Gasol reported improved stamina and said his knees were feeling better than they did before he decided to sit out for eight games.
What did Gasol think of D'Antoni's in-and-out approach with his primary post players? He's all in.
"I think it's good that we spend some time together on the court and also some time apart so I can play a little more center and closer to the basket when he's not in there," Gasol said of himself and Howard. "We have to find a balance and the right rotations and timing out there where we can exploit our size when we're together and give each other some rest also."
World Peace could come off the bench for the foreseeable future, D'Antoni said, because he would log too many minutes if he started games at small forward before shifting to power forward. He was fresh enough to play the entire fourth quarter Tuesday, giving the Lakers a 97-95 lead with 21/2 minutes left on a floater.
The emergence of World Peace at power forward will probably mean diminished roles for Jordan Hill and Antawn Jamison, neither of whom played against the Bobcats.
"Nothing that they did to deserve it," D'Antoni said. "I'm trying to figure out the best way to play the team."
Even if it means two of the best big men in the NBA rarely share the floor.