For all the talk about Andrew Bynum on Dwight Howard and how important that is, there will be times in this series when Pau Gasol will have to cover him man-up. The Lakers don’t want to double in the post, and if Gasol is on Howard while Odom and Ariza are on Hedo and Lewis, the Lakers match up well (they can switch pick and rolls that way).
But could Gasol really hang with Howard one-on-one? I went back and looked at the USA/Spain Gold Medal game from the Beijing Olympics, when Gasol and Howard did square off as centers.
Gasol holds up well in this game — Howard slows but does not stop Gasol’s offense at all. Spain pulled Howard away from the basket because Dwight had to respect Pau’s 18 footer. They both got their points, but it was not an embarassment. And if Howard is getting his but the Lakers can better defend the perimeter, that may be a tradeoff worth taking.
Some words of caution — the offense Team USA ran is nothing like what Orlando did. Frankly, with wing options like Kobe, Lebron, Wade, Melo, CP3, the USA didn’t try very hard to start the offense from the post. Also, Spain played a fair amount of zone, so there are stretches when Gasol and Howard are on the court but not really matched up on one another.
That said, what follows is a breakdown of the possessions where they were matched up.
First Spanish possession of the game: Howard has to stop the penetrator on a pick and roll and Gasol rolls uncontested to the hoop for a dunk (Wade made a half-hearted late rotation and foul for the and one).
First USA possession: Kobe Bryant drives the lane and Gasol has to rotate over to stop the penetration. Kobe shoots over Gasol and misses, but nobody rotates over to help on Howard, who easily grabs the offensive rebound and puts it back in.
8:27 First: Gasol scores on a break where he just flat out beats Howard down the floor to fill the lane on a 3 on 2.
6:30 First: Gasol misses a 17-footer over Howard. But as I said before, Spain set up similar motions a lot, using Gasol to pull Howard out away from the basket. Often he was just a decoy. It’s a strategy the Lakers could use.
9:22 Second: Jimenez has the ball on the right baseline and Gasol cuts from the high post to the low and Howard is caught watching the ball and letting Pau go. Gasol gets the pass under the basket and Howard recovers late and gets the unsportsmanlike foul for jumping on Gasol’s back.
8:15 Second: With the ball out very high on the right side, Gasol gets a pick and comes from weak to strong and he gets the ball on the wing 15 feet out and goes with the catch and shoot that misses. (However, with Howard away from the basket defending the shot Marc Gasol got the rebound and putback.)
6:20 Second: Pau Gasol is isolated on Howard 15 feet out left wing, drives deep on him baseline then spins back to the middle and gets off a hook that is too hard and misses, Howard rebounds.
5:58 Second: Reyes drives the lane but loses the ball, with it loose inside Gasol is quicker to it, grabs it and puts it in before Howard reacts.
First USA possession second half: The USA tries the lob into Howard but Gasol has fronted him and makes the steal.
8:41 Third: Howard does a good job poking away a lazy entry pass to Gasol and creates a turnover.
7:30 Third: Gasol gets the ball on the left block, tries to back in Howard, kicks it out and gets the instant repost with six on the shot clock. Gasol spins baseline and puts up a 5-foot jumphook with the left hand over an extended Howard and drains it.
Coming out of that Howard gives a little smack in the face to Gasol that goes unnoticed by the refs. Meanwhile the USA runs after that Gasol make and Howard beats Gasol down the court by a mile, gets the lob inside with just a bunch of guards around him and gets the foul going up.
6:26 Third: Howard comes out to the right wing to set the pick but slips it and catches Gasol off guard, a little lob in and Howard with the dunk.
6:45 Fourth: Kobe Bryant almost got the ball stripped by Rubio but holds on and drives the lane from the right wing, Gasol rotates over to take away the shot but nobody helps the helper, so Kobe passes to Howard under the basket for a dunk.
5:50 Fourth: Howard does a good job using his length and speed to try to take away the entry pass to Gasol in the post, and when Rubio makes one Howard knocks it away but out of bounds. On the inbound play Fernandez gets into the lane but misses the shot that Howard rotates over on. However, that leaves Gasol to get the weakside rebound, Howard comes over to defend and Gasol makes a nice move to go back under the rim and shoot from the otber side (using the rim so Howard can’t block the shot) but he misses it.
4:02 Fourth: In a scramble out of a Marc Gasol offensive rebound, Pau Gasol got deep position on the reset and got the feed very deep on the right block. Howard got called for the reach-in foul trying to stop him. Gasol hit the free throws.
At that point Coach K pulls Howard for Bosh.