Injuries in the Front Court

With the news that Pau Gasol suffered a tear of the plantar fascia, the continuation of what’s been somewhat of a Murphy’s Law season for the front court in terms of injuries continued, leaving L.A. unsure of who to expect on the floor.

The team learned that it would be without top reserve big man Jordan Hill for the remainder of the season on Jan. 11, and he’s subsequently undergone surgery on his ailing left hip. Gasol has already missed 13 games with plantar fascia problems in addition to a concussion and knee tendinitis (LAL going 5-8), while Dwight Howard has missed six games (3-3) due to a labrum tear in his right shoulder.

Howard most recently aggravated the shoulder injury he originally suffered on Jan. 4 on Jan. 30 at Phoenix, and has missed the past three games. He did participate in Thursday morning’s shootaround in advance of this evening’s game against Boston, for which he’s considered a game-time decision.

We took a look at how the Lakers have done with and without Howard and Gasol in the line up:

Since the beginning of January, when the Lakers were really struggling at both ends, the team went 3-8 with both in the lineup (3-3 at home; 0-5 away). In those 11 games, Gasol came off the bench in seven contests and started four. LAL averaged 98.1 points per game on 45.4 percent field goals and 32.6 percent from three, with 55.2 rebounds, 22.4 assists and 15.4 turnovers. Opponents averaged 100.7 points on 46.3 percent field goals and 34.2 percent threes, with 48.8 rebounds, 24.1 assists and 10.8 turnovers.
*NOTE: Jordan Hill appeared in three of these games (PHI, @LAC, DEN).

The 3-8 record is a bit misleading, as the Lakers won three of the final four when both started, losing only a Phoenix game they’d led by 13 early in the fourth quarter before Howard went down and missed the final seven minutes. It appeared that they’d finally figured it out, with Gasol dominating opposing second units and Howard anchoring the defense.

L.A. defeated Cleveland & Milwaukee, both at home, rather easily. They averaged 108.5 points per game on 53.6 field goals and 42.6 percent from three, with 43.5 rebounds, 31 assists & 16 turnovers. The two opponents averaged 90.5 ppg on 38.4 percent field goals and 22.4 percent from three, with 46.5 rebounds, 19.5 assists & 14 TO’s. Howard averaged 26.5 points, 15.0 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game in those two.

Of course, Cleveland and Milwaukee are not among the East’s, let alone NBA’s, elite, and the Lakers were desperate for some home wins after a tough road trip and winless month.

L.A. won three consecutive games at Minnesota, Detroit & Brooklyn, all relatively close finishes. The Lakers averaged 100.3 points on 44.7 percent field goals & 32.3 percent from three, with 56.0 rebounds, 23.7 assists and 13.3 turnovers. Opponents averaged just 93.3 points on 41.9 percent field goals and 35.6 percent from three, with 55.0 rebounds, 21.7 assists and 15 turnovers per game.

Gasol averaged 20.0 points, 8.7 boards, 2.3 assists and 1.7 blocks as the feature center, and it’s perhaps the 41.9 percent shooting towards 93.3 points that’s most impressive from L.A.’s defense without Howard, in addition to Metta World Peace missing the Brooklyn game.

The Lakers got crushed in three consecutive games at Houston and San Antonio and vs. Oklahoma City when neither of its two big men played. They averaged 106.0 points on 44.4 percent field goals and 32.6 percent from three, with 49.7 rebounds, 23.3 assists and 12.7 turnovers. The three opponents, who happen to be the NBA’s top three offensive teams, averaged 116.3 points on 51.6 percent field goals and 40.5 percent from three, with 54.0 rebounds, 26.3 assists and 18 turnovers per game.

Clearly, both bigs being out is the scenario the Lakers can ill afford for too long, even as the emergence of Earl Clark will let the purple and gold get away with an ultra small line up at times with Clark at center and Metta World Peace at power forward. Yes, L.A. was only 3-8 when both played in January, but the team was simply playing poorly in general, not sharing the ball on offense or playing hard enough on defense, something that changed after the meeting in Memphis in which most got onto the same page.

Even in a small sample size that makes drawing any grand conclusions difficult, we’ve seen the Lakers figure out how to win with one of their two best bigs out. They’ll be at their best when both return, but in the meantime, it’s up to Clark, MWP, Antawn Jamison and Robert Sacre to pick up the slack, with Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Steve Blake – OK, everybody – helping out from the back court.

The Lakers have three more road games to conclude the Grammy trip (@BOS, @CHA, @MIA) before returning home for two games (vs. PHO, vs. LAC) ahead of the All-Star break. Stay tuned.