It’s that kind of presence that along with Bryant has enabled the Lakers to reach the NBA finals three consecutive times, and win the title twice. It’s that kind of player that’ll have a nation glued to the television Thursday night to watch the Lakers game, just like Gasol did two-decades ago when he first fell in love with basketball by watching Magic’s Lakers put on a show.
All that said, the Lakers will need more than Gasol playing at the top of his game to defeat a Spanish team eager to claim they beat the World Champions. After playing basketball year-round for the past couple of years, taking a break this summer has helped in preserving his energy for the long-haul, but unfortunately doesn’t benefit Gasol’s present offensive rhythm.
“I hope Pau performs a little bit better, I know he’ll want to,” Lakers head coach Phil Jackson said after Gasol’s less than stellar performance against Minnesota Monday night in London. “I think there’ll be a more gallant attempt.”
Although the Lakers are not quite in tip-top, regular season form yet, they’ll have to find a way to deliver as a unit for 48 minutes without their starting center Andrew Bynum and a limited Bryant. As co-captain and vocal juggernaut Derek Fisher explained, it’s an issue of pride for the Spaniards, anything enabling them to use a Lakers defeat as a championship measuring stick can’t be allowed.
“I do think we have to take into account what the game could mean for them, more than us, per se,” Fisher said. “The emotion will be tangible in the building, playing against the home team.”
Then there’s also the desire to leave their European tour with a win for their teammate Gasol, who throughout his tenure in the NBA has given rise to the popularity of basketball as a sport in Spain, second to only futbol.
“This is exciting and I’m excited for him because he’s going back home, this is where he grew up and now he’s going back as a two-time champion, so I’m hyped for him,” quipped Bryant.
We’ve grown so used to the big-man’s consistency that we can consider his struggles in London an anomaly, just lingering effects of the off-season. If he and the Lakers are in sync, tomorrow night’s game has the potential of being a preseason masterpiece.