Lakers head athletic trainer Gary Vitti tends to Pau Gasol. (Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports)
On Tuesday afternoon, NBA observers were discussing Pau Gasol's recent suggestion that he could ask the Los Angeles Lakers to deal him this offseason and affirmation that he would not request such a move before the Feb. 21 trade deadline. On Tuesday night, the 32-year-old Spaniard suffered a worrying injury that could render any trade-deadline prospects moot, and also take yet another L.A. big out of the lineup for some time.
With just under 4 1/2 minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Lakers trailing the Brooklyn Nets 77-76, Gasol rose up to attempt to block a shot by Nets center Brook Lopez ... and then went down in a heap:
Gasol went down holding his right foot and stayed down for a while before getting up and moving gingerly down court on the ensuing possession. He fouled Lopez on the Nets' next trip down the court, then immediately went back to the locker room and did not return; he finished with 15 points on 6 for 16 shooting, four rebounds, two assists and two steals. Gasol was diagnosed with a strained right plantar fascia after the game, and will undergo an MRI on Wednesday after the Lakers arrive in Boston ahead of their nationally televised Thursday night matchup with the Boston Celtics.
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The Lakers went on to win, 92-83, thanks to a late-fourth run sparked by a turn-back-the-clock slam by Kobe Bryant. But in the aftermath of L.A.'s third straight win, its sixth in its last seven outings and a big road victory without frontcourt starters Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace, Gasol's injury cast a pall over the proceedings, according to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:
“I’m a little bit uncertain of how long this thing is going to take,” Gasol said. “I don’t want to get ahead of myself here and be optimistic or pessimistic.”
Gasol has played with plantar fasciitis in his right foot for most of the season, but he noticed it worsening during the Lakers’ win last Friday against Minnesota. He also said he “tweaked” his foot during the first half against Brooklyn. [...]
“It felt good enough and comfortable enough to be out there and compete,” Gasol said. “I didn’t anticipate this happening."
Gasol may have said he didn't want to get ahead of himself or pessimistic, but his follow-up comments — "I felt a pop in the bottom of my foot [...] I've strained [the plantar fascia] before but this is different," according to ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst — sure didn't sound too promising for a Laker team that, even after winning six of seven, remains three games under .500 and 3 1/2 games behind the bombs-away Houston Rockets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
With reserve center Jordan Hill out for the season after hip surgery, the absence of Gasol could leave the Lakers perilously thin up front and relying heavily on the likes of end-of-the-bench rookie Robert Sacre and out-of-position four-man Earl Clark in the middle ... at least, as long as Dwight Howard remains sidelined after reaggravating the torn labrum in his right shoulder.
Bryant said after the game he was "very, very concerned, to say the least," about Gasol's injury, and emphasized the importance of getting Howard back on the court, according to Windhorst:
After the game, he challenged Howard to play through the shoulder injury that's caused him to miss the past three games on this Lakers road trip. With Gasol likely on the shelf again, Bryant knows the Lakers need Howard. He made it clear he thinks Howard could be and maybe should be playing through the pain in his shoulder. [...]
"He's probably worried about the damage in his shoulder," Bryant said. "I don't think he's ever had to play through injuries in his career. I think it's a new experience for him." [...]
"When I was growing up, going through high school and middle school, unfortunately but fortunately I dealt with injuries," Bryant said. "Not injuries that were debilitating but injuries you have to play through where you have to manage the pain. When you go through those things you learn your body and what you can push through.
"But Dwight has never been hurt. The [back injury last season] was debilitating and he couldn't play. When you have an injury that hurts you but you can play through it that's something you have to balance out and manage and he's never really had to do that."
Bryant's comments came after Howard proclaimed himself out for Tuesday's game, saying that "it’s [his] career" and "there’s no need for [him] to prove anything to anyone." His status for Thursday night's game in Boston remains up in the air.
"Hopefully we'll get Dwight back pretty soon and then hopefully Pau's not too bad," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said after the game, according to Brian Mahoney of The Associated Press. "If not, we'll play."
If the clip above isn't rocking for you, please feel free to check out the fourth-quarter play elsewhere, thanks to @Jose3030.
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