Golden State Warriors v Los Angeles Lakers

Pau Gasol likely to return to Lakers lineup next week


It’s easy to say that the Lakers should be winning more basketball games than they have been, simply because of the presence of Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard on the floor together in the same lineup.

But it’s not that simple, especially when the rest of the supporting cast has been, from a talent standpoint, far below the level that was advertised as L.A. reloaded with Hall-of-Fame level talent in the offseason.

Steve Nash has played just two games, and is working his way back from a non-displaced leg fracture which has kept him out essentially the entire season. Backup point guard Steve Blake has been similarly sidelined with an abdominal injury, and he’s expected to be out even longer than Nash, likely another six-to-eight weeks.

And then there’s Pau Gasol, the much-maligned big man with all the talent in the world, should the Lakers find a way to use his skill set correctly in the team’s schemes on both ends of the floor.

Gasol has missed the last seven games due to tendinitis in his knees, the thinking being it’s better to rest him now and get him right rather than running him into the ground when the team is still missing other players who are vital to its success.

L.A. has won just two of those contests, but help is on the way. Gasol is making progress, and might be back on the floor as soon as Tuesday, but it’s looking like no later than Saturday.

From Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register:

Good news for the Lakers: Pau Gasol got back on the court today for the first time in two weeks and successfully went through 90 minutes of running, shooting and other individual basketball drills.

He told me yesterday that he had graduated to basically no pain from the tendinitis in his knees during three days on the treadmill. Now he didn’t have any problems advancing to on-court work today.

The next step will be seeing how his knees feel tomorrow after the stress of today. If things go well, Gasol could be back for the Lakers’ home game against Charlotte on Tuesday — with the next game after that not till Saturday at Golden State.

Gasol doesn’t want to fully commit to a firm date for his return, though when asked about the likelihood of being back for that Saturday game against the Warriors, he said “That’s probable.”

So there is hope on the horizon for the Lakers. Gasol is likely to return this week, and Nash isn’t too far behind — in fact, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to see him make it back for that same game in the Bay area next Saturday night.

51Q: Does Ty Lawson vault the Rockets into the top tier of championship contenders?

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets controls the ball against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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I see five clear upper-echelon championship contenders –  Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Cavaliers.

Do the Rockets belong in that group, or do they fill the next tier by themselves?

Ty Lawson – acquired for pennies on the dollar – could put Houston over the top.

But, really, this premise might not be fair to the Rockets. They earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season and reached the conference finals last season. James Harden finished second in MVP voting. Dwight Howard looked like a star during the playoffs. The supporting cast – Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer and even Jason Terry – played better than anyone expected. Young players like Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could make a leap at any moment.

There’s a case to be made we should have taken Houston more seriously even before trading for Lawson.

I didn’t, though, and I don’t think many others did either.

I suspect one of the biggest reasons is the Rockets’ balance. Houston – 12th in points scored per possession, sixth in points allowed per possession – was one of only two teams to win more than 51 games last season without ranking top five in either category. Of the seven teams with so many victories, the Hawks – sixth, seventh – were the only other. Atlanta was a darling team, winning 60 games after going 38-44 the season prior. The Rockets’ modest win increase, from 54 to 56, drew less attention.

But balance shouldn’t be punished. Houston’s surprisingly strong defense should be celebrated. Lawson might push its middling offense over the top.

There are reasons to question that, though.

The biggest is Lawson’s sobriety. If he’s not focused and engaged, this all goes out the window. His comments about going to rehab only because it was court-ordered raise doubts, though they hardly foretell anything.

Let’s say Lawson’s off-court problems are behind him. How big of an upgrade is he? The Rockets already had a pretty good point guard who fit well with Harden in Beverley. Lawson is a clear offensive upgrade, but in the biggest moments, the ball will still run through Harden. At that point, would you rather have Beverley or Lawson on the floor? Beverley is a far superior defender, and his off-ball offensive game isn’t far from Lawson’s. Beverley is is a fine spot-up shooter, and Lawson’s strengths involve having the ball and creating. Lawson’s biggest boost could come when Harden sits, but that was fewer than 12 minutes per game last season.

Sure, a secondary ball-handler could ease pressure on Harden throughout a long regular season. Lawson and Harden can take turns running the attack.

But we’re talking about title contention, and in those high-leverage situations, it’s Harden’s show. How much does Lawson matter then?

The Rockets have a chance to win a championship. As good a chance as the NBA’s five best teams? I’m not so sure.

UNLV following Kentucky’s lead with combine for NBA scouts

Goodluck Okonoboh, Patrick McCaw
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Kentucky held a two-day combine last season for NBA scouts.

Now, LSU and UNLV are following suit.

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports:

The Runnin’ Rebels will hold their event on October 23rd and 24th at the Mendenhall Center, UNLV’s practice facility, sources told The expectation is that all 30 NBA teams will be in attendance.

LSU has potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and another first-round prospect in Tim Quarterman.

UNLV features lottery prospect Stephen Zimmerman.

This won’t replace scouts attending games and watching practices, but the fact that all 30 teams plan to attend shows how seriously the pro league takes these. No college team wanted John Calipari to have that competitive advantage in recruiting, so the smart ones are leveling the field with their own combines. Soon, more college teams will follow.

As the calendar gets packed, NBA teams might have to pick and choose which they attend. At that point, we might get little clues about which prospects they’re scouting hardest.