By Jeff Hamilton
WINNIPEG - Pau Gasol has learned a thing or two over his 14 years of service in the NBA.
And now, as he gets ready to play his 15th season as a pivotal member of the new-look Bulls lineup, he understands the time he spends on the court is just as important as the time he’s left off it.
“I’m focused (on that),” said the seven-foot Gasol following a 114-105 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves Saturday in a rare preseason game at MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Man. “(Monitoring my time) is important, I just want to try and prevent things from occurring as far as fatigue levels and potential injuries.
“It’s my fifteenth year of my career and as much as I played in the summer I just need to be conscientious; to play 30-40 minutes (a game) it’s not wise to do that.”
Gasol didn’t hit 40 on Saturday — he didn’t even come close to 30 minutes. Sitting out the first two preseason games earlier in the week in order to protect — you guessed it — his body, Gasol played just 15:34 in the winning effort.
But when he was on, he was his usual threat. His 2-for-5 from the field won’t exactly jump off the stats page but his mere presence was enough to dictate the play; often he was double-teamed, freeing up his teammates for open shots.
“It felt good to play some minutes and get up and down the court,” said Gasol, who averaged more than 34 minutes per game last year. “Just to get in to my rhythm, get up my conditioning and get a feel with what we’re doing now with a new system and new coaching staff. So just enough so I don’t get burned out during the year and I stay as fresh as possible.”
Gasol’s ability to stay fresh won’t just land on his shoulders, but also from head coach Fred Hoiberg, who in his first year as bench boss for the Bulls will already have his hands full this season trying to fight off questions about the give-a-care meter from star point-guard Derrick Rose and whether Gasol and Joakim Noah can play together and still cause fits for opposing defenses.
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Ask Hoiberg, however, and out comes a pretty easy solution.
“The big thing is we’ve got a lot of guys we can throw in there,” said Hoiberg. “Bobby Portis, for a rookie, has been terrific so far; Cameron Bairstow gave us great minutes I thought as well. Obviously when Joakim (Noah) and Taj (Gibson) get healthy; we can play Doug (McDermott) in some 4 (position), and Nikola (Mirotic).
“We got a lot of bodies so the big thing I want from Pau is to feel good and be fresh at the end of the year, hopefully when you’re playing your best basketball.”
And the Bulls best basketball is when Gasol is on the court.