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Pau delivers Punch
Is Gasol The Lakers’ Real MVP?

This probably will be considered blasphemy by most who follow the NBA closely, but it sure seems like Pau Gasol, and not Kobe Bryant,, might be the Los Angeles Lakers’ MVP this year.

Now of course Gasol isn’t the dynamic and clutch scorer that Kobe is. There may not be someone in Bryant’s class when it comes to that. But what the Lakers have done without Kobe this year and what they have done without Gasol sure seems to show a trend.

Bryant, of course, has missed the past three games with an ankle injury. And starting center Andrew Bynum has missed basically the past three as well with his own injury. So what have the Lakers done? They won at Portland by 17 for their first victory at the Rose Garden since 2005 (ending a nine-game skid there). Then L.A. returned home and spanked a San Antonio team that had every player available. Granted, the Spurs aren’t very good against winning teams this year, but a 12-point win over a presumed West contender without 40 percent of your starting lineup is impressive. In that game, by the way, Gasol’s stat line of 21 points, 19 rebounds, eight assists and five blocks has been matched by only five players in the history of the NBA -- Bob McAdoo, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Robert Parish, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal.

But the most impressive of the three wins sans Kobe and Bynum came on Wednesday night in Utah, where the Lakers won 96-81. That ended the Jazz’s nine-game winning streak overall and 10-game streak at home. Did I mention that in the last game that Bryant and Bynum played, the Lakers lost at home by 13 to a Denver team that didn’t have Carmelo Anthony?

Here are Gasol’s averages in the past three games, all double-digit wins and covers: 18.7 ppg, 15.3 rpg, 5.3 apg, 3.7 bpg and slightly better than 50 percent shooting from the field. Those are pretty good numbers, but perhaps more important the offense is flowing through Gasol and the players aren’t just standing around waiting for Kobe to do his thing. Certainly don’t get me wrong here, the Lakers are NOT better without Bryant. But are they better without Kobe when Gasol is healthy as opposed to better off with a healthy Kobe and injured Gasol?

When Gasol missed the first 11 games of the season, the Lakers went 8-3. That included two home losses – they’ve lost only once at Staples Center since the Spaniard has returned. Here’s another stat for you: the Lakers have lost back-to-back games twice this year. The first occurrence came the initial time Gasol was out, and the other happened when Gasol missed another six games in early January with another hamstring issue. For the record, the Lakers still haven't lost three straight games since Gasol was acquired from Memphis on Feb. 1, 2008. The Lakers have 13 losses this season, with six of those occurring with Gasol out injured.

When Kobe is on the court, the Lakers are Kobe’s team. When he isn’t, the Lakers ARE a team. All I’m saying here is that while L.A. probably can’t win a title without Kobe, the Lakers certainly could survive a decent stretch of the season if he does happen to go down injured. I’m not sure the same could be said if something happened to Gasol.

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