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Lakers' Gasol expects to return for Heat showdown

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Lakers' Gasol expects to return for Heat showdown

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) Pau Gasol has spent far too much of the past 10 days in dark rooms with no distractions. He's eager to get back under the NBA's bright lights as the Los Angeles Lakers try to get it together in time for a playoff run.

Gasol expects to return from a concussion on Thursday night when the Lakers host the Miami Heat. The 7-foot Spaniard was optimistic about his health and the Lakers' chances after going through a short workout with his teammates Wednesday at their training complex.

``Everything felt good, and tomorrow will be a go,'' said Gasol, who has missed five games since Denver's JaVale McGee accidentally elbowed him in the face.

``I'll have to ease my way back into it, because this is the first day I've actually got some good work done on the court,'' Gasol added. ``After a week and a half of inactivity, your body needs a certain time to get back out there and perform at your best. ... It's hard also to behave when you have a concussion and you're at home, and they tell you no TV, no computer, no reading. What are you supposed to do? It's hard just to stay still at home, especially if you're an active person. So you learn it's no joke.''

Gasol and the Lakers (17-21) both realize they've got to recover quickly from recent setbacks. Although they've won two straight heading into their visit from the defending NBA champions, the star-studded team is still facing an uphill climb in the second half of the season just to make the playoffs.

Los Angeles decisively beat Cleveland and Milwaukee over the past four days, but only after a six-game losing streak that dropped them well out of the Western Conference's top eight. The Lakers are feeling a bit better about themselves after those two wins, particularly with Dwight Howard in top form since his return from a shoulder injury, but Kobe Bryant knows Miami will provide a better barometer on their collective recovery.

``It's a good measuring stick for us to see how much we've improved since last week, when we played against several top teams and they all beat us,'' Bryant said. ``This is a big test with the defending champs coming to town.''

Yet Bryant realizes the Lakers haven't looked capable of contending with elite teams like Miami and Oklahoma City, which routed the Lakers last week. Los Angeles' four biggest stars have played together only for short stretches of the season, and Gasol is eager to see how the Lakers can handle coach Mike D'Antoni's offense when they're all together again.

Gasol said he doesn't care whether Earl Clark remains in the starting lineup when he returns, although D'Antoni has said Gasol is his starter when ready. Gasol is just grateful to be back on the court after the first concussion of his life.

Gasol's mother is a physician, and Pau attended a year of medical school before entering the NBA draft a decade ago.

``It's been a learning experience,'' said Gasol, who is averaging a career-low 12.2 points and 8.4 rebounds. ``Just to learn the symptoms, the struggling of getting up every day and not feeling better, just having a constant headache, being bothered by light and noise and not knowing what the next day is going to be like and not knowing when you're going to be back and healthy.''

Gasol also researched his injury, learning that athletes with multiple concussions are at larger risk for serious complications. He can't deny thinking about the long-term effects, but won't allow it to stop him from playing hard down low.

``It's an unfortunate hit, but those can happen any day at any time,'' Gasol said. ``You have to be careful. It's a brain injury, and without a brain, we don't function. Potentially there's damage now. You have to reset your brain. You struggle with stuff you'd never think you'd struggle with. It's been a process, and I'm finally turning the corner, so now I just hope I don't get hit again.''

Howard has played well in the Lakers' last two wins, racking up 53 points and 30 rebounds against the Cavaliers and Bucks. Bryant and Steve Nash have made a visible effort to get the ball to the easygoing big man near the hoop, and Howard has predictably capitalized.

The equation sounds simple, but the Lakers haven't maximized their size advantages with Howard and Gasol this season. Howard believes the Lakers still have plenty of time to get the most out of their ample talent.

``Things are always going to be said when you're not winning and everybody is expecting us to blow everybody out,'' Howard said. ``So when we do lose, some people search for why we're losing, but we've just got to stay patient, stay together and believe. When we stay focused and we stay together, we'll be great.

``We're learning, but stuff like that takes time. The biggest thing, we've just got to stick together. We can't let nothing on the outside tear us apart.''

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Wizards 2018-19 end of season grades: Bradley Beal

Wizards 2018-19 end of season grades: Bradley Beal

Now that the dust has settled for the 2018-19 Wizards season, it's time to review the roster and hand out individual grades...

Who: Bradley Beal, shooting guard

2018-19 stats: 36.9 mpg, 25.6 ppg, 5.5 apg, 5.0 rpg, 1.5 spg, 0.7 bpg, 2.7 tov, 47.5 FG%, 35.1 3P% (2.5/7.3), 54.0 eFG%, 80.8 FT% (4.4/5.5), 113 ortg, 114 drtg

Best game: 1/13 vs. Raptors - 43 points, 15 assists, 10 rebounds, three steals, two blocks, 6-12 3PT

Grade: A+

Season review: One could argue that nobody deserves a higher grade in the Wizards organization for their 2018-19 season than Bradley Beal, who had by far the best individual year of any player on the team. He had high expectations coming into the season and exceeded them, taking the next step from an All-Star to a legitimate All-NBA candidate.

Beal also continued to represent the organization well in public. He spoke for the team after many difficult losses with poise and maturity. And he brought positive attention to the franchise for his charitable efforts, recently being named as a finalist for the league's community assist award.

Beal's on-court performance was a shining light amid a disastrous season overall for the team. He set career-highs in scoring, rebounds, assists, steals and free throw attempts. He played in all 82 games for the second straight season and never complained despite leading the NBA in minutes.

The most impressive part of Beal's season may be how he responded when John Wall went down due to injury. Wall last played on Dec. 26 and in the next 47 games, Beal averaged 27.2 points, 6.0 assists, 5.1 rebounds and 1.8 steals. 

Beal's final numbers put him in elite company. He became the first 25-5-5 player in Wizards/Bullets franchise history. He was one of only six players to reach that mark this season, a list that includes Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, James Harden, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry.

Even as the season was winding down and the Wizards were well out of playoff contention, Beal gave an honest and consistent effort. That stood out in a year in which some of his teammates did not play hard and were called out by head coach Scott Brooks and team leaders for doing so. 

Now Beal, of course, had many reasons to keep giving 100 percent. With the numbers he has put up, he could make All-NBA in late May and, if he does, will qualify for a supermax contract. That could mean tens of millions more on his next deal, if he chooses to sign back with the Wizards.

As Beal looks ahead to this summer and next season, another question is how much better he can become. He took a significant step from the All-Star year he had in 2017-18. What if he makes another, similar leap?

Beal upped his scoring average by three points year-over-year. Another jump like that could put him in the MVP conversation, depending on how the Wizards finish in the standings.

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Trevor Rosenthal’s fate among key questions as Nationals stumble home

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Trevor Rosenthal’s fate among key questions as Nationals stumble home

Rolling back into town, things same as they ever were, the Nationals can take solace in their situation by looking across the division. Brutish, really, a bunch of teams labeled contenders which can’t assemble winning streaks or bullpen outs. The National League East is an ugly affair filled with teams barely playing winning baseball. Not one of the five has a record better than .500 across the last 10 games.

Which is good news for the Nationals. They left the District with hopes consecutive series against supposedly inferior teams would jumpstart this pothole-filled season. No such results. Losers of four of six against downtrodden Miami and suddenly vibing Colorado leaves Washington a game under .500 -- its home of a year-plus. The Nationals have been within one game of .500, either a game above or below, 95 times since the 2018 season began with a 4-0 sweep in Cincinnati. That’s the most in the majors by 22 games.

So, a week away did nothing to change the team’s record or problems. Trevor Rosenthal still can’t find the plate. Trea Turner still has not healed. The bullpen as a whole is still languishing. Anthony Rendon’s elbow bruise was enough to keep him out of the Colorado series but not on the 10-day injured list.

Rosenthal remains a conundrum. Another wild appearance in Colorado undermined the progress of his previous appearance. He hits batters, bats and backstops, none of which are the goal.

Washington has few options with him. Rosenthal is earning $7 million guaranteed this season. He has minor-league options, but his major-league service time means he would have to accept an assignment to the lower levels. The Nationals can’t just send him down. He also just spent a year-plus recovering from surgery in order to pitch in the major leagues. Try telling that person it’s time for the minor leagues. He currently can’t be trusted in any spot. But, he needs to pitch to fix his issues.

An argument to Rosenthal to accept a minor-league assignment could go like this: go down there, get right, come back to help us when that happens. Don’t think only about now. Think about the future, too. A $14-million club option is on the line for next season. The chance Washington takes that option is close to nil. So, Rosenthal needs to think about employment elsewhere. What’s happening now -- pitching sparingly with stomach-churning results -- is not working, and it’s not working for anyone.

Another looming question as spunky San Diego arrives for a three-game series, is Rendon’s status. He has not played since being hit by a pitch April 20 in Miami. He also is yet to make his way to the injured list. Which, presumably, means the Nationals expect Rendon to be available Friday night against the Padres. If not, he should have been placed on the injured list already, retroactive to Sunday.

Without Rendon, the Nationals received a sustained look at Victor Robles hitting second. The results were intriguing. Robles remains a dynamic athlete who is still learning to hit. Davey Martinez will have to decide whether he is a fit to hit second without Turner and with Rendon in the lineup. Putting Robles second would have a two-fold benefit: It moves Rendon to hitting third, which moves Juan Soto to fourth, giving further separation to the left-handed bats in the lineup (part of the original thought for hitting Turner second). It also simply provides Robles more at-bats.

However Martinez -- and the organization -- decide to act will not be made easier by the coming schedule. San Diego’s negative run differential suggests its 14-11 record is built on false underpinnings. However, it remains a competitive team. St. Louis -- the NL’s best team as of Thursday -- is next. Another drive to Philadelphia follows, then a trip to Milwaukee and four games in Los Angeles against the first-place Dodgers.

Washington has to figure out if Rosenthal will be making any of those journeys, where Robles will be hitting, and, most notably, how they can put together consecutive wins. Its longest winning streak is two games. Its longest losing streak is two games. The Nationals have never been more than one game over .500 or two games below this season. This is peak middling, and not what a $190 million payroll was dispatched to do.

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