Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni admitted yesterday that he was wrong to think Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard couldn’t play together.
While Gasol and Howard are both nominal centres, the Lakers have finally found success playing them as a tandem over the last eight games.
D’Antoni told reporters he should have tried it earlier yesterday, saying, “I’ve come to realise that we can play with the two big guys. I was a little sceptical at first. I think with both of them being close to 100 per cent, yeah, they can play together easily. I kind of had a preconceived notion that probably wasn’t right.”
That preconceived notion nearly cost the Lakers a playoff spot (and still could, if they don’t beat Houston tonight).
It should have been a no-brainer that Pau and Dwight could play together. Pau played with Andrew Bynum (another traditional centre) for years, and he has always been more of a power forward who operates from the high post than a centre who operates from the low post.
But D’Antoni has a rigid system, and that system demands that a power forward is more of a “stretch-4” who can run and shoot threes. Since Pau isn’t that type of player, D’Antoni didn’t even attempt to try to figure out a way to play him alongside Dwight.
Almost immediately after D’Antoni took over, he de-emphasised Pau. In D’Antoni’s third game as coach, he benched Pau down the stretch against Memphis — an early signal for what was to come.
In the 26 games from when D’Antoni took over until Gasol got hurt in early February, Pau only averaged 13 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 3.7 assists while shooting 46%. Those are all below his career averages.
He was also only playing 30 minutes a game, and sat in crunch time while D’Antoni rolled out a lineup with either Earl Clark or Antwan Jamison at power forward.
It was only until late March, when Pau rejoined the sputtering Lakers for their playoff push, that D’Antoni unleashed him.
Over his last eight games, the old Pau is back. His minutes are up to 37 per game, he’s playing in crunch time, and the Lakers are 7-1. His stats are also back to his career averages of 16.9 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 6.5 assists while shooting 52%.
Pau’s re-emergence has also helped Dwight Howard find his old form. He’s averaging 22 points and 10 boards in his last eight games, compared to 16.5 and 11.5 over his previous 67 games of the year.
It’s not rocket science. Having Pau on the court and operating from the high post has opened things up for Dwight.
It’s mind-boggling that it took D’Antoni four months to figure this out. He has always been a system coach who likes to put as many three-point shooters on the floor at once, but he should have been able to adjust.
The Lakers still play no defence at all, and without Kobe they don’t have a prayer in the playoffs. But the revelation that Pau and Dwight are effective together is the one silver lining that will (finally) come out of this season.
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