Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said after shootaround Tuesday morning he will play Pau Gasol, returning from a four-game absence because of vertigo, and Chris Kaman, coming off a 28-point, 17-rebound, 6-assist performance, together in the starting lineup.
“We’ll try it,” D’Antoni said.
D’Antoni had been reluctant to play the two together in the past this season, believing that the skill sets of the two 7-footers overlapped one another. The coach also expressed the desire to develop younger big men Robert Sacre, Jordan Hill and Ryan Kelly rather than play Kaman major minutes and also often preferred to play either Kelly or Wesley Johnson at the stretch 4 position with the first unit.
D’Antoni explained his change of heart.
“Well, Chris played really well,” D’Antoni said, crediting Kaman’s efforts in the Lakers’ 115-99 win over the Phoenix Suns on Sunday. “It’s something else to look at. But it’s going to affect other people. We’ve had this discussion. Somebody is going to pay for it (with reduced playing time). So, we’ll see. We’ll see how it goes. We’re going to play two bigs and then we’re going to play Ryan and space the floor. We’ll see what works to close the game out and see what happens.”
Gasol, who lobbied for more of that lineup throughout the season, seemed satisfied with the move Tuesday.
“Let’s see how it works,” said Gasol, who admitted he was not 100 percent over his bout with vertigo. “We got to communicate to see how we’ll not be on top of each other so the spacing is still right and then just compete, utilize our size to protect the paint and hopefully control the boards. I think that will be a big plus for us.”
It was a mixed bag of results when Kaman and Gasol appeared in the starting lineup together this year. They looked good together in the preseason, but that was cut short when Kaman came down with food poisoning on the team’s trip to China and lost his starting spot to Shawne Williams.
D’Antoni went back to the pair not long after, however.
They started together in the Lakers’ 99-98 win in Houston on Nov. 7. It was a great team win for L.A. against Dwight Howard and the Rockets, but Gasol and Kaman combined for eight points on 4-for-15 shooting, 22 rebounds and seven turnovers.
They also started together in the Lakers’ 113-90 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Nov. 10. It was one of L.A.’s worst losses of the season, as they allowed the Wolves to score 47 points in the first quarter. Also, Gasol and Kaman’s combined numbers were underwhelming as they went for 19 points on 9-for-22 shooting, 16 rebounds and seven turnovers.
“It wasn’t the greatest,” D’Antoni said. “I mean, it’s OK. The way Chris is playing right now and the way Pau is playing better, it probably makes sense. Earlier, when one out of the two wasn’t playing real well (it didn’t make sense). And we wanted to go smaller.”
The Lakers won four of their next six games after D’Antoni went away from the Gasol-Kaman combination following the Minnesota loss to bring their record to 10-9 and the coach never went back to it. Until Tuesday, that is.
“You get a sense of how you want to play and you get a sense of what looks good,” D’Antoni said. “It gave a sense that we were better with Shawne Williams back then spreading the floor and playing an uptempo game and up until the injuries, I thought our record showed it. Then when the injuries hit, I don’t care who we were playing, without a point guard it was going to be tough to win.”
Where was also a fundamental deficiency of the Gasol-Kaman pairing that didn’t sit well with D’Antoni.
“Your speed as a team is a lot lower and it doesn’t bode well in today’s game to be slow on the floor,” D’Antoni said. “So, that’s the thinking.”
Guards on the mend
Steve Nash, who sat out the Suns game because of nerve root irritation, is considered probable for Tuesday. Xavier Henry, who missed the Lakers last two games after aggravating his sore right knee against Milwaukee is also considered probable against the Blazers.
Jordan Farmar, who has been out the last seven games with a strained right groin, visited Dr. Luga Podesta on Monday and was cleared to play, according to the Lakers. Farmar plans to use this week to ramp up his conditioning and could be back in the lineup next Tuesday when the Lakers host the Houston Rockets.
Nash told reporters last week he hopes to play as much as he can before Farmar returns, because once Farmar is back in the mix, it will probably eat up the playing time available for the former two-time MVP.
“He understands the situation,” D’Antoni said of Nash. “Because Steve is a smart guy, he understands what we’re trying to do and he buys in and it makes it nice.”