Report: Pau Gasol to return to practice, return targeted for Tuesday

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The Lakers have been a punching bag through the first quarter of the season, taking beatings on the court in the form of losses and off the court in terms of media critiques.

Injuries have been a big part of  their downfall with Steve Nash only playing in six quarters, Steve Blake also missing multiple games, and, more recently, both Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill sitting out with nagging injuries. If you’re counting at home, that’s half of the Lakers presumed eight man rotation.

This team has fought through missing these players the best that they can, but have been anxiously awaiting the return of some of these guys. Well, reports say that they’ll get their wish today, at least in terms of Pau Gasol who has sat out the past eight games with tendonitis in both knees:

Before Gasol was put on the shelf, he looked like a shell of his former self. He missed countless inside shots and didn’t seem capable of making multiple efforts on either side of the ball. With him also being miscast as a stretch power forward in Mike D’Antoni’s system, Gasol was only an average (at best) contributor and was the first name mentioned as the player who needed to be traded in order to “fix” the Lakers.

Since Gasol has been out, however, the Lakers have clearly missed his skill set, even though he wasn’t 100% when he was playing. Per NBA.com’s stats tool, in the eight games Gasol missed, the Lakers were worse on the defensive glass, had a lower assist percentage, and were considerably worse on defense than when he was in the lineup.

Clearly, the Lakers have missed his unselfishness and ability to make the right read offensively. His feel as a passer and desire to involve his teammates has always been a good compliment to Kobe Bryant’s thirst for scoring. Without Pau in the lineup, Kobe had to carry a heavier burden as a playmaker for others and the results haven’t always been pretty. The Lakers have also missed Gasol’s length defensively, where he served as a secondary rim protector and rebounder to Dwight Howard.

When Gasol returns he’ll still need to find his way in D’Antoni’s offense. He’ll also need to prove he can stay healthy enough to be more effective in guarding on the perimeter and making the types of effort plays he wasn’t earlier this season. But having him back will boost the Lakers in multiple ways that weren’t evident until he was actually not able to play.

As the Joni Mitchell once sang, you don’t know what you have till it’s gone. And that was certainly the case for the Lakers and the Spaniard.

 

Kobe Bryant on race for Podoloff Trophy: “We might see our first co-MVPs this year”

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The race between James Harden and Russell Westbrook for the 2017 NBA MVP has narrowed to a two-man race toward the end of the season. The Oklahoma City Thunder star is averaging at triple-double this year, and the Houston Rockets guard is doing things nobody has ever done on a basketball court before.

It’s a tough decision to decide between them, so much so that even former Los Angeles Lakers great and 2008 NBA MVP Kobe Bryant can’t do it.

Speaking on ESPN on Sunday, Bryant said he thought the league might have to just bite the bullet on Westbrook vs. Harden.

“We might see our first co-MVPs this year,” said Bryant.

That would be a huge step for the league, but I’m not entirely sure they would do it. There have been co-NBA All-Star Game MVPs in years past, but never league MVP.

Still, can you decide between Russ and Harden? The Mamba can’t.

Watch Rockets C Nene lead the break, eurostep past Enes Kanter (VIDEO)

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Houston Rockets center Nene is from Brazil, but on Sunday against the Oklahoma City Thunder the South American native went full euro.

On a fastbreak possession, Nene took on Thunder big man Enes Kanter near the rim and absolutely shook him with a nasty eurostep.

The play was so good that it forced Oklahoma City to call a timeout as James Harden and the rest of the Rockets bench met Nene on the court to celebrate.

Kobe Bryant says he didn’t even have NBA League Pass until a month ago (VIDEO)

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What has retired all-time NBA great Kobe Bryant been doing with his time? A little of this, a little of that. Apparently that doesn’t include watching non-national NBA games.

Speaking with ESPN’s Jemele Hill and Michael Smith on SC6, Bryant revealed that he went to go watch a little NBA while he was getting a workout in at his house and realized he didn’t have the NBA package hooked up on his cable.

Via Twitter:

I don’t know if I totally buy this. On one hand, Kobe is a busy guy and he did spend two decades living and breathing the NBA night in and night out. I would expect that after all that time he might want some kind of relief.

Then again, to think that Kobe doesn’t have multiple assistants that would have handled that sort of thing already is sort of silly. The only benefit here is Kobe trying to sell that he’s just relaxing and not paying attention to the league too much, which is hilarious.

Kobe, we all know who you are by now. You’re watching the league, man. You’re Kobe. We get it. You didn’t suddenly turn into The Dude.

Let’s just hope Kobe’s League Pass works right off the bat. We all know how much of a hassle it can be.

Damian Lillard dismisses playoff expectations as pressure, says it insults regular people

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The Portland Trail Blazers have had a disappointing season thus far. The team is just 34-38 before their game with the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, and they’re battling it out for the last spot in the Western Conference playoffs with the Denver Nuggets.

This comes as after expectations rose greatly following the 2015-16 campaign which saw the Blazers finish 44-38, good enough for the No. 5 spot in the West.

Portland has looked better after trading Mason Plumlee to Denver in exchange for Jusuf Nurkic, but it might be too little too late. Meanwhile, team leader Damian Lillard isn’t bowing to the idea that last season’s good fortune raised the bar so much that it put undue pressure on his team.

Speaking with Sporting News, Lillard said he thinks the idea is really more about pressure vs. challenges.

Via SN:

Pressure, nah. Fam, this is just playing ball. Pressure is the homeless man, who doesn’t know where his next meal is coming from. Pressure is the single mom, who is trying to scuffle and pay her rent. We get paid a lot of money to play a game. Don’t get me wrong — there are challenges. But to call it pressure is almost an insult to regular people.

Look at the Wizards, they were kind of on the same wave as us. Didn’t even make the playoffs while we did. Now this year they’re the second-best team in the East. The adversity made them better. It can make us better, too. What I come from and my background made me who I am. As comfortable as I am with the good times, I’m also comfortable in adversity. Yeah, I might feel some type of way when somebody comes for me or says my name. But when it’s all said and done, it ain’t gonna rock me.

This is interesting to hear an NBA player say out loud. One, because I’m not sure I entirely believe it. You can have pressure without it having to be something that threatens your overall wellbeing.

Then again, maybe we’re arguing linguistics here. There’s definitely a different emotion from, say, trying to make sure you make rent and aren’t evicted to the street vs. trying to make the NBA playoffs. If one emotion is being defined as pressure, it makes sense to call the other a challenge.

It’s also interesting to hear an NBA player speak in those kinds of terms. There are a few guys around the league who seem to be relatively grounded and give out quotes like this from time-to-time. The absurdity of the NBA — playing games, making millions, and having folks worship you — would easily bend reality for most of us.

In any case, the challenge of making the playoffs for Portland is not going to be an easy one to overcome. Going into Sunday’s matchup with the Lakers, the Trail Blazers are a game behind Denver for the final spot.

Portland will face Denver on Tuesday, March 28 in perhaps their most important game of the season.