EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- After not playing three times in a five-game span because of an upper respiratory infection, Pau Gasol has returned to the lineup the past two games, averaging 24 points, 11.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 3.5 blocks.
He was as good as he's been all season against the Utah Jazz on Friday, racking up 23 points (on 10-for-17 shooting), 17 rebounds, eight assists and three blocks in the Los Angeles Lakers' 110-99 win to snap a six-game losing streak.
What caused the turnaround?
"One is being healthy, that’s going to help," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said after practice Saturday. "Two, I think the rhythm of the team was better, and once that is [the case,] then he gets more confident and more aggressive. We want Pau to be aggressive. We want him to be in the post every time, or at least in the play every time."
Gasol, the subject of various trade rumors swirling around the past month, including talk of him being dealt to Cleveland that continues to persist, proved he can still perform and block out the distractions.
"Everybody is in this position, in a sense. You just do your job and good things happen," D'Antoni said. "The worst thing that can happen in this league is pretty daggone good, if you’re in the league. So, it’s not that bad."
D'Antoni wants to see more good nights like the one Gasol had against Utah and thinks the big man's ceiling is higher than the 15.3 points and 9.5 rebounds on a career-low 44.9 percent shooting Gasol is putting up this season.
"I think he should almost average a triple-double every night," said D'Antoni. "That’s what he did at the end of last year."
Indeed, Gasol racked up three triple-doubles in the Lakers' final seven games (including the playoffs) last season.
The coach believes that Robert Sacre's addition to the starting lineup has helped Gasol become more comfortable on defense using his length to harass opposing power forwards rather than having to use his bulk to battle centers. D'Antoni also said that Kendall Marshall gave the team a rhythm on offense that it was lacking that has trickled down to Gasol.
"If you’re happy on offense and you’re happy with the team, it comes through on your defense," said D'Antoni after the Lakers held the Jazz to just 12 first-quarter points Friday. "It shouldn’t be that way, but it is that way, human nature, and last year was a big example of that. We were not happy offensively with our roles and we struggled, our shoulders drooped and we didn’t have the intensity that we needed on defense."
D'Antoni, who singled Gasol out earlier in the season for his unwillingness to accept his role with the team, admitted Saturday that Gasol's underwhelming performance was caused by more than just a rigid attitude.
"That’s also a product of the team," D'Antoni said. "You can’t just blame one guy. It’s all connected and it’s how the ball moves and it’s how the wings get out [in transition] and it’s how we get the ball inbounds and how the ball finds him in the low post. It’s all connected, and [Friday] we did a better job of it and Pau was really good."
Gasol vowed to keep it up following the Jazz game. The Lakers host the Denver Nuggets on Sunday before going on to play 10 of their next 11 games in the month of January on the road.
"I just want to play hard and play well and give as much as I can to this team, because we are so short-handed," Gasol said. "I owe it to myself and I owe it to my teammates, and I just want to be that guy that works hard for the team."