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Ball Don't Lie

Mike D’Antoni on Pau Gasol’s injury: ‘By the time he comes back, we’ll be in or out’ of the playoffs

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Lookin' good, Pau Gasol! (Twitter.com/paugasol)

On Sunday night, with Lakers big man Pau Gasol set to enter his second month of rehab on his torn plantar fascia in his right foot, Los Angeles coach Mike D’Antoni said what we were all thinking when the news of Gasol’s ridiculously optimistic “six to eight weeks” diagnosis was handed down. Gasol might have to stay out for the rest of the regular season, with his only impact post-injury coming in the form of postseason production.

And that’s if the Lakers make the postseason.

From the Orange County Register’s Kevin Ding:

Pau Gasol has spent a good part of this season trying to sell Mike D'Antoni on what Gasol can do for the Lakers.

D'Antoni isn't buying right now, as Gasol tries to come back as soon as possible from a torn plantar fascia in his right foot.

"By the time he comes back," D'Antoni said Sunday about the Lakers' hopes of rallying into the playoff picture, "we'll be in or out."

Lakers team reporter Mike Trudell clarified as much on Monday

… pointing out that the Lakers (two and a half games in back of the Houston Rockets) could be out of the thing by the time Gasol suits up again. Or in it. Depends on the streak, and a potential change of fortune.

[Related: After leading the Lakers to victory, Kobe Bryant responds to Mark Cuban]

We said as much on Friday, when it was revealed that Kobe Bryant guaranteed a playoff appearance for the team in 2012-13 back on Feb. 12, in an interview with Sports Illustrated. The Lakers are on a tear right now, winning 11 of 15 with Kobe Bryant grabbing Player of the Week honors out west for his work in the run, averaging 31.3 points and 13.7 combined rebounds/assists. Dude’s 34. Unbelievable.

The Lakers have to play unbelievable basketball just to make it to that bracket, though. As we talked about last week, the going rate for the final seed in the West will probably be 44 or even 45 wins. And though the Lakers have a pairing with the eighth-seeded Rockets on the last night of the regular season, the team will have to win two-thirds of its games from here until that night in order to have a chance to win a safe 45 contests against Houston on that fateful evening.

Certainly do-able. Certainly a significant task, though, for a team that isn’t even at .500 yet.

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Mike D'Antoni does the math (Getty Images)

As far as Gasol goes? Players sometimes watch as their careers end or seasons are cut short with merely plantar fascia irritation. It’s a very painful injury that only really heals with plenty of rest and constant care. A tear? That’s something else altogether; and while we don’t doubt that Gasol will be dutiful in his rehab – he’s constantly updating his progress on his Twitter feed – making it back in eight weeks to join the team on April 2 would be a remarkable comeback.

Assuming Gasol is fully healed. He’s played through plenty of pain before without making a peep.

And what of the Lakers’ recent run? What was once laughable postseason talk has now turned into reasonable discussion, and a 2.5 game deficit behind a Houston Rocket team that is also still finding its way doesn’t seem like too much of an obstacle on paper.

Maybe we’re looking at the wrong paper, though. SB Nation’s Tom Ziller points us to the underwhelming side of Los Angeles’ recent run:

According to NBA.com/stats, over the last 15 games (11-4 record) the Lakers are scoring 1.04 points per possession and allowing 1.02. Over the entire season (59 games, 24-25 record) the Lakers are scoring 1.05 points per possession and allowing 1.03. The team's efficiency differential for the season is +1.9; over the last 15 games it is +2.3. The Lakers are barely different. It's hard to look at the data and ascertain that anything has clicked into place. This is essentially the same team that it has been: a slightly above average club. But the Lakers' unlucky record from the first half of the season is now regressing to the mean, which the data indicates is still far short of expectations.

Ziller goes on to point out that the Lakers are actually 11th out of 30 teams in terms of point differential, typically the best overall team stat when it comes to determining a squad’s level of play. So, the team has been unlucky in the close ones. Something many fair weather NBA fans wouldn’t expect on a team featuring Kobe Bryant.

[More: LeBron James retroactively wins Slam Dunk Contest]

From there, given the best case scenario for Lakers fans and a playoff appearance, we have to look at where Gasol fits in. He was completely miscast in D’Antoni’s offense before his injury, and if the Lakers do make it to the postseason he’d be attempting to join the team after its most successful run of the season. Gasol was already under enough pressure as he worked through the most trying – Memphis eras, included – season of his career in 2012-13. Being re-treated as a scapegoat again after coming back just in time for a first round loss would be the height of unfairness.

Lakers as usual. Carry on, wherever it leads.

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