Pau Gasol will be the difference for the Lakers in the playoffs.

The Lakers didn’t make the playoffs until an overtime game in the season finale after the Utah Jazz a win-and-get-in game on the road. That’s how the last day of their season ended, the other 81 games would need a book in order for you to get the entire picture.

With that said, they’re in the playoffs and they’re a 7-seed that can, in theory, do damage. That describes a lot of the Lakers’ potential and deficiencies: everything being good in theory.

With Kobe Bryant out with an Achilles injury and Steve Nash’s body breaking down in 39-year old fashion, the Lakers have to turn to their twin towers, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol.

Howard’s season has been one drowned in injury woes and inconsistencies. All the while, he’s been rather productive, even though his numbers are below what we’ve grown accustomed to. As the season went on, especially in the last two games, Howard and Gasol developed the chemistry that many of us were looking forward to.

Gasol’s season has been more frustrating despite expectations for him not being through the roof. His name has been in trade talks for years, and he was actually traded until the NBA wanted to be boring parents about it, so Gasol could ill-afford to underperform.

By the time Mike D’Antoni was hired, people were excited to see Pau perform in an offense that focused on scoring, scoring and more scoring. He got off to a rocky start that took him months to recover from. He lost his starting spot to Earl Clark, he missed six weeks with an injured foot, and he faced questions, as usual, about if he’ll back with the Lakers next year.

Though his future may not be known for now, Gasol has given the Lakers plenty reason to rejoice in his return to the playoffs. He spent the month of April averaging 17.5 points, 12.1 rebounds and 6.6 assists; all of that with Kobe Bryant missing the last two games.

[caption id="attachment_1756" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol must carry the Lakers in the playoffs with Kobe Bryant out of the fold."][/caption]

Dwight Howard is the centerpiece of any damage the Lakers can do this postseason, but Gasol is the difference-maker. Even if Nash comes back in time to make a contribution, the Lakers need Gasol’s play-making ability to generate an effective offense.

With his passing ability from the high-post and low block, Gasol opens up a new dimension for the Lakers to give the San Antonio Spurs a run for their money in this first round matchup.

Both teams are ravished by injuries. With Tony Parker still trying to get back to full health for the Spurs, there remains to be seen just how familiar San Antonio will look consider Manu Ginobili is out indefinitely.

Though Tim Duncan has had a resurgent season, the Spurs have been upset by their playoff foes in the last four years. Despite their regular season fortunes, it will be hard to treat the Spurs advancing like a foregone conclusion; that is made more difficult by these same Kobe-less Lakers beating the Spurs just this past Sunday.

The Lakers’ best victories have all come when they have forced their opponent into ugly games that come down to defensive efforts. With Howard looking healthy and Gasol getting more confident as the team grows more reliant on him, the Lakers could upset these Spurs in six games.

Crazier things have happened, right? Two months ago, the Lakers weren’t expected to be here at all.

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