Just as things were looking up in Laker Land, Pau Gasol will be sidelined for over a month.
By JOE McDONNELL FS West
LOS ANGELES -- The dark cloud that has been following the
Lakers all season rained a little more bad news down upon the beleaguered organization.
Pau Gasol will likely miss the next month—or more—as he recovers from a torn plantar fascia on the bottom of his right foot. The seven-footer--who has been playing with an injured plantar fascia for months--suffered the tear in the fourth quarter of the Lakers' win over the Nets in Brooklyn on Tuesday night. "I'm very, very concerned about it,"
Kobe Bryant said after the 92-83 win.
As usual, Bryant's instincts were correct.
Gasol left the Barclays Center on crutches, unable to put much weight on the foot. He flew with his teammates to Boston and had an MRI done Wednesday morning that revealed the tear. He then caught a flight back to
Los Angeles for a Thursday meeting with team doctor Steve Lombardo and foot doctor Kenneth Jung. That consultation will determine the course of treatment, which could include surgery.
The injury is just the latest mishap in a season of discontent for the two-time NBA champion, but he refused to let another setback crush his positive outlook. On his Twitter feed Wednesday, Gasol wrote: "I'm hoping to recover asap so I can be back with the team and keep fighting until the end of the season. #GoLakers #AlwaysPositive,"
Plantar fasciitis is one of the most painful injuries and athlete can sustain, and can take a very long time to heal. The best Gasol can hope for is to avoid surgery and make it back for the stretch drive of the schedule.
The timing, of course is horrible for Gasol and the Lakers, who have won six of seven and three in a row on the road—just two fewer than they had won away from home all season. The four-time All Star had been playing some of his most inspired basketball of the season after being taken out of the starting lineup for the first time in his NBA career.
Coach Mike D'Antoni has said that he thinks the Lakers are a better team when Gasol and
Dwight Howard didn't play together, and after some hurt feelings and bitter comments on both sides, D'Antoni and Gasol seemed to have reached a truce, and the Lakers were suddenly a better team.
In his past 10 games, Gasol looked like the player who helped the Lakers to the 2009 and 2010 NBA titles. He was averaging 16.5 points while shooting .528 from the field—nearly 100 points more than his season average. He also grabbed 7.4 rebounds and had 1.2 blocks. Gasol started three games and the Lakers won all three. Now, with Howard out rehabbing a torn labrum in his right shoulder and his return seemingly at least another week away, the Lakers have lost their inside presence and will go from one of the biggest starting lineups in the league to one of the smallest.
D'Antoni could decide to go with rookie seven-footer
Robert Sacre as the starter, but he doesn't figure to see many minutes. So, the coach will probably choose to play the surprising Earl Clark and Antawn Jamison in the front court, going without a traditional center and
Metta World Peace at the other front line position. And you'll probably see D'Antoni have his players push the ball more, something they haven't been very successful at with Howard or Gasol in the game.
What effect will Gasol's injury have on the Lakers' playoff hopes? In the short-term, probably not much. After struggling unsuccessfully all season to develop a team identity, it all seems to have come together in the past seven games. Blown leads don't automatically mean lost games, and “we have learned to trust each other and have each other's backs” Howard said before the team left on the Grammy road trip.
The real answer to the question rests with Howard and his torn labrum. If he makes it back sooner than expected, the Lakers can continue this run over a long period of time. He has become a huge defensive stopper again and can dominate offensively as well when he has to score. However, if he is out any longer than another week and Gasol has to miss most of the rest of the season, it could be wait until next year for the 16-time NBA Champions.
A next year that may not include potential free agent Howard.