By Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney
Every single bit of momentum that the Lakers have been able to generate this season has been swallowed whole by bad breaks and poor chemistry, making it no surprise that L.A.'s recent success would inevitably lead to some unfortunate news.
The latest gut punch comes courtesy of the ever-reliable Ken Berger of CBS Sports, who is reporting that Pau Gasol -- last seen exiting Tuesday night's game on crutches after collapsing to the floor late in the fourth quarter -- is due to miss at least six weeks of game action due to a partially torn plantar fascia. The injury was confirmed by the Lakers, but the team was unwilling to provide a timetable before Gasol was examined by team doctors in L.A. on Thursday. Winners of three straight and six of their last seven, the Lakers now will have to radically change their approach and rotation to account for this critical blow to their lineup.
According to Berger, Gasol and the Lakers will have a crucial decision to make regarding the most sensible course of action going forward:
The rehab timeline would put Gasol's recovery somewhere in the projected range of March 20-April 3, assuming no additional setbacks and not including his acclimation to the timing and conditioning of the NBA game. The surgery timeline would almost assuredly put Gasol out of action through the end of the regular season (L.A. plays its final game on April 17) and likely through even a potential first round series. The Lakers had no margin for error in their efforts to make the postseason cut, and now figure to see their playoff chances slashed significantly by the absence of so crucial a player.
There are no optimal solutions at this point, just the management of disappointing options. Gasol's injury only compounds those faced by Dwight Howard (who may be ailing and limited for the rest of the season) and reserve big man Jordan Hill (who is ruled out for the year with a labral tear), virtually stripping the Lakers of their entire rotation of bigs.
This season has been one nightmare after another for Gasol. He’s missed time due to knee tendinitis and a concussion and he’s averaging a career-low 13.4 points and 8.01 rebounds per game while shooting a career-low 45.3 percent from the field. But this latest blow occurred when Gasol was forced from action with a little more than four minutes remaining in regulation on Tuesday. Gasol attempted to defend a drive by Nets center Brook Lopez, and as he rose to contest the running shot, Gasol pulled up in mid-air, falling to the ground in pain. Replays showed that there was no contact between the players and that the injury appeared to occur as Gasol lifted off the ground.
Gasol initially attempted to walk off the injury but eventually went to the locker room with the assistance of the Lakers’ medical team. He departed with 15 points (on 6-for-16 shooting), four rebounds and two blocks in 34 minutes.
Dave McMenamin of ESPNLA reported that Gasol said he “felt a pop” and that he was “worried” about his foot. Berger also originally reported that Lakers guard Kobe Bryant was “very, very concerned, to say the least,” about Gasol’s injury.
Earlier this week, Gasol indicated that he would not request a trade in advance of the Feb. 21 deadline despite frustration with his role and playing time under coach Mike D’Antoni, and now it appears that the Lakers will have no choice but to hold on to Gasol despite his underwhelming play and the dismal trajectory of their season. L.A.'s top-heavy construction is as problematic at the negotiating table as it is on the court; the team has committed to a core of Bryant, Howard and Steve Nash, making Gasol the one expendable piece. Now even Gasol seems likely to be a Laker -- if only in name -- through the end of the season, despite any previous urges to deal him before the deadline.
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