Pau Gasol

Pau Gasol with the monster slam dunk to seal Lakers win over Knicks (VIDEO)


LOS ANGELES — With the game on the line and the Lakers clinging to a three-point lead with possession of the ball, it wasn’t Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, or Steve Nash who found themselves taking the final shot.

No, that honor went to Pau Gasol, whose diminished role on a newly-stacked team this season hasn’t impacted his will to win, or his ability to remain engaged.

Gasol’s emphatic drive and dunk down the middle of the lane sealed the Lakers win over the Knicks, a hard-fought and competitive 100-94 victory that finally brought L.A.’s record to the .500 mark on the season.

Nash was inbounding along the baseline, and appeared to be looking to get the ball to Bryant initially. As Bryant tried to free himself, however, he found two defenders right there with him — Jason Kidd, and Carmelo Anthony.

Anthony initially was checking Gasol, but passed him off to Kidd on the switch in order to stay close to a streaking Bryant. Kidd followed Bryant as well, which probably wasn’t a bad decision considering the Lakers propensity to force the ball into his hands in virtually every end-of-game situation.

After Gasol set that brief screen and once he was left by both Knicks defenders, he wisely drifted to the three-point line, where Nash found him.

Gasol had a clear path to the basket, and didn’t hesitate for a second. He immediately put the ball on the floor and drove down the lane for a powerful two-handed slam dunk that put the game in the win column for the Lakers.

Anthony was asked afterward how he saw it all unfold.

“I think Jason was trying to set a trap on Kobe,” he said. “I was trying to switch. I switched off and I think Jason was trying to trap, so it was just a miscommunication on both our behalfs.”

Anthony was also asked if he thought the play made by Nash to find Gasol was a special one that maybe not a lot of players in the league were capable of. But he laughed off that notion when giving his response.

“Well, I mean, s—, he was wide open,” Anthony said with a laugh. “You could find him. Anybody would have found that, he was wide open down the lane, and he made a crucial play.”

Gasol simply basked in the moment afterward, as well he should have. He’s been heavily criticized both this season and last, but showed in this one just how capable he remains, even as merely the occasional fourth option on a team loaded with talent.

“I don’t dunk as often as I used to so it felt good,” Gasol said. “I took it right down the lane and finished strong.”

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.