Pau Gasol is 'overworked'
The Lakers expressed concern with their circumstances rather than panic at their predicament.
But there was also a twinge of uncertainty in the air as Pau Gasol's left hamstring is still less than 100 percent after the 7-footer tweaked it Tuesday in Memphis and it continued to bother him Wednesday in Houston.
"It's tight, a little sore; we'll see how it goes," said Gasol, who traded his practice time for therapy and icing on the hamstring.
Despite being able to rest the hamstring for five full days before the Lakers' next game, should he decide to sit out Friday's game against the Sacramento Kings, Gasol said he has every intention of playing if it feels good enough to run on after Friday's morning shootaround.
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"We're short-handed already, so I try to be out there as much as I can and do as much as I can without, obviously, wanting anything extremely bad to happen that will put you out," Gasol said. "But you got to toughen it up right now, suck it up and hopefully get a couple guys back soon."
The Lakers got some good news in that department Thursday. Starting center Andrew Bynum, who has been out all season while recovering from right-knee surgery, practiced with the team and tested the knee in a four-on-four game situation at the end of the session. Backup center Theo Ratliff ran on an altered-gravity treadmill for the first time since undergoing left-knee surgery of his own just more than two weeks ago.
Gasol missed 17 games a season ago because of strains to both his left and right hamstrings. Gasol said his current hamstring injury is a "lesser degree" and "not comparable" to the ones he suffered last season, but added, "I think it's been a little bit of a warning here. It's letting me know."
If the warning is that Gasol's been playing too many minutes, Lakers head coach Phil Jackson doesn't seem to be heeding it.
"Phil pointed out today [that] I'm only averaging two more minutes than I did last year, [so] what are we talking about?" Gasol said. "It's only two minutes."
Gasol is averaging 39.4 minutes per game this season, up from 37.0 minutes a season ago, but he's averaged 43.4 minutes in the last five games.
"[I'm] concerned, but he's a pretty resilient player," Jackson said. "We think he can come back and play."
Said Gasol: "[I'm] pretty much overworked. The muscles are overworking a little bit too much. My body is compensating for other things and the hamstring is the one to suffer the most."
If Gasol can't come back and the injury worsens, the team will look to rookie big man Derrick Caracter to plug up the middle in the starting lineup until either Bynum or Gasol is ready to go.
Jackson said Thursday he spoke to Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak about assigning Caracter and fellow rookie Devin Ebanks to the Lakers' D-League affiliate, the Bakersfield Jam, but the two decided against it because of the team's depleted depth at the moment.
"We might have to start him and play him the whole game," Jackson said of Caracter, who is averaging just 6.8 minutes per game this season. "That's always an option. Something may happen like that."
Gasol's injury is only part of the team's problems. There's also that whole four-game losing streak business to figure out.
"There's some things that you learn out of this," Jackson said. "Guys dot the i's and cross the t's after something like this and get a little more specific about their game."
Jackson pointed to how his starting unit closed out the second quarter against Houston as the reason for the loss. The Lakers led by 12 with 3:52 remaining in the quarter, but went to the halftime locker room up just three points.
"I've been kind of holding the starters' foot to the fire, so to speak, and giving them the idea that we have to play better at certain times of the game," Jackson said.
The way the Lakers closed out the half Wednesday mirrored the way they have been closing out close games this season. In 35 "clutch time" minutes this season -- times in a game when there are five minutes or less remaining in the fourth quarter or overtime and the score is within five points -- the Lakers have a plus/minus of minus-25, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
In clutch time, the Lakers are averaging 89.1 points per 48 minutes while allowing their opponents to score 123.4 points per 48 minutes. In 877 non-clutch time minutes this year, the Lakers are scoring 109.0 points per 48 minutes while holding their opponents to just 99.7 points per 48 minutes.
"Especially down the stretch and closing quarters and closing halves, there's too many breakdowns that we shouldn't have with the veteran team that we have and the experienced team and successful team that we have," Gasol said.
There's also the issue of how Kobe Bryant is fitting in with the rest of the four players in the offense when he's on the floor and vice versa. During the Lakers' eight-game winning streak to start the season, Bryant averaged 24.1 points per game on 17.6 field goal attempts and shot 44.0 percent from the field. During the current four-game losing streak, Bryant averaged 32.0 points per game using 25.8 field goal attempts per game to do it and is shooting 41.7 percent from the field.
"It's pretty easy to throw the ball [to] Kobe sometimes and just go and stand in the corner and suck our thumb, but you can't do that all the time," Jackson said.
The coach pointed to the team's 4-7 record over the final 11 games of last year's regular season that preceded a postseason championship run as evidence that the Lakers' current 5-6 record over the past 11 games can be overcome.
"Last year we had a little run at the end of the season that was bad that came along," Jackson said. "You go through those spells during the year and I hope this was ours."
Gasol offered less optimism.
"Rough times right now," he said. "We're upset about how things have been going and obviously we have to be concerned. We'd be dumb if we weren't concerned about what's really going on."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.