Marc Gasol is key to the Los Angeles Lakers vs Dallas Mavericks.
The Los Angeles Lakers and Marc Gasol were huffing, puffing, and blowing down the Staples Center all night long against the new-look LA Clippers. The Lakers were missing so many shots that the big bad wolf and the three little pigs all went down to the Staples Center looking for bricks to build their new house.
The correct narrative is the Lakers lost because they are not yet in basketball condition after being the last team standing in the bubble. Only ten weeks separated Game 6 of the NBA Finals and the Lakers-Clippers game, which is the shortest turnaround time in NBA history.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel was wise in how he approached the game. The goal is to repeat as NBA champions, not to dethrone the Clippers as Opening Night champions. Playing LeBron James or Anthony Davis heavy minutes at this point in the season would put them at risk for serious injury. It is far more important to keep them healthy for the playoffs than to win on opening night.
But the scoreboard never cares about narratives or explanations. The Lakers lost because they displayed telltale signs of an out-of-shape team: sloppy passes resulting in several turnovers, missed wide-open shots, and poor transition defense, all of which is not too concerning given all three of these problems were an issue last season.
The fatigue-related mistakes will go down once LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the rest of the Lakers returning from last season get back into NBA-level basketball shape.
With that said, the Lakers lacked the grit and grind necessary to finish their comeback against the Clippers. They did not have the proverbial edge they had all throughout their title run. To get that edge back, the Lakers must lean on a new acquisition who exemplified grit and grind all throughout his career: Marc Gasol.
How Marc Gasol fits in with the Lakers:
Gasol was integral to creating the grit-and-grind culture of the Memphis Grizzlies. Although he is new to the Lakers, he is not new to playing the physical brand of basketball that won the Lakers the championship.
Today’s Lakers may wear similar uniforms as the Showtime Lakers but are far more reminiscent of the grit-and-grind Memphis Grizzlies than the glitz-and-glamour of the Showtime Lakers.
Nevertheless, as a huge Gasol fan, it pains me to say he was a non-factor in the Clippers game. It also should pain Luka Dončić and anyone else on the Dallas Mavericks who is brave enough to attack the basket. Dallas already shoots a bunch of threes. Make them even more one-dimensional by roughing up anyone who enters the paint.
The Lakers rarely made the Clippers feel their presence when they attacked the basket. Notice how it only took five seconds for Gasol’s great defense to become a highlight-reel dunk from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Alas, this was the exception to the rule. Kawhi Leonard put the Lakers in the spin cycle so many times he ended cleaning up their laundry after the game.
It was not just Kawhi who torched the Lakers. Paul George lived up to his freshly-inked $226 million contract extension while Kyle Kuzma, who just signed a $40 million extension, guarded Pandemic P like he really was Pandemic P.
Granted, these are great takes. But they were barely touched on their way to the basket. The refs called fouls based on incidental contact. Rather than blaming the refs, the Lakers must get their money’s worth when contesting the shot…as in, they need to foul someone hard while also going for the ball. Physical defense does not always equate to a flagrant foul.
The Clippers game showed the Lakers lost their identity with all the personnel changes. They can get it back with a statement game on Christmas Day against the Dallas Mavericks. Kristaps Porziņģis is out for Dallas so there is a tremendous opportunity for Gasol and the Lakers to dominate inside.
Gasol cannot have zero points, one rebound, and one assist in 12 minutes of action. There is no excuse for Gasol to not punish Dallas early and often in the paint as he has at least three inches and 30 pounds over Maxi Kleber, Dwight Powell, or whoever else they have at center. Lakers coach Frank Vogel needs to find the hot button to motivate him to play as he did in Memphis.
Explaining the hidden rivalry between Marc Gasol and Luka Doncic:
There is a motivating factor for Gasol in this play: El Classico, Spain’s most anticipated soccer match between La Liga powerhouses Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. In basketball, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona are mainstays in the Spanish ACB League, widely considered the second-best professional basketball league in the world.
How is this relevant? Gasol grew up in a Barcelona suburb and started his professional career at FC Barcelona. Luka captured MVP honors at Real Madrid in their 2018 Euro League Championship run before Dallas traded up for him in the 2018 NBA Draft. If Gasol plays much harder than he did on opening night, look at the Madrid/Barcelona rivalry as a factor.
What Gasol needs to do to start the game:
Gasol has to start the game playing as aggressively as possible, setting hard screens and backing down much smaller defenders in the post. He will pick up tacky-tack fouls early on because defensive timing and positioning go by the wayside when fatigue sets in. He still has to make his presence felt inside even if he is winded or frustrated with the refs.
And his presence does not need to be felt in the box score. His unintended screen for Dennis Schröder is a perfect example of what I call an off-ball assist. Schröder would not have been this open had Gasol not sealed off Patrick Beverly.
Again, this does not show up in the box score. It is why stats and analytics do not give a complete picture of a player’s contribution to the game. Gasol can affect the game without affecting the box score.
How the Lakers should use Marc Gasol on offense:
Gasol is an all-time great passer and screener from the center position. I would start the game by running the offense through him in the high post and also have him set screens for LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Gasol setting up LeBron and AD will generate more ball and player movement, which will help the Lakers’ offense substantially.
Case in point: LeBron’s highlight-reel dunk on this possession. Notice how easy it was for him to attack the basket because the defense had to account for Kyle Kuzma cutting to the basket.
While Gasol was not in the game on that particular play, he can facilitate in the same way as AD did. It will be a major adjustment for both LeBron and AD to also become finishers as opposed to solely being initiators on offense. There are benefits to moving them off the ball: Gasol can set up them in the short run for easy baskets, which opens things up for everybody else – and the offense can maintain a high level of efficiency if everybody else is in rhythm.
AD will benefit especially as he gets fouled most of the time when he beats his man off the dribble (true for any elite big man). Big men do not last as long as guards because dominating the paint is a physically taxing role. Referees struggle officiating dominant big men because they get fouled every single time they finish at the basket.
Gasol can start the game moving the ball on offense. On defense, if Gasol is only going to play half the game, he can foul someone every 4 minutes until he fouls out.
And the Lakers will get their identity back.