Spurs (9-3) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (7-5)
Tipoff: 9:30 p.m., Staples Center, Los Angeles
Spurs’ last game: Beat Sacramento 110-105, Wednesday, Sacramento
Lakers’ last game: Beat Brooklyn Nets 125-118, Tuesday, L.A.
Notable: A Spurs win Friday night would move Gregg Popovich (1,098) past Larry Brown (1,098), his mentor and a former Spurs coach, on the list of NBA career coaching victories.
SAN ANTONIO – Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was not a happy camper when the Memphis Grizzlies pulled the trigger on a multi-player trade that sent All-Star center/forward Pau Gasol to the Los Angeles Lakers in February 2008.
The Spurs were defending NBA champions, but Popovich knew that the blockbuster deal would shift the balance of power to the Lakers. Popovich was right, of course. L.A. won two league titles and reached the Finals a three consecutive years with Gasol on the team.
Gasol played with the Lakers until signing with Chicago as a free agent in the summer of 2014. After two seasons with the Bulls, he signed with the Spurs this summer to help fill the void left by the retirement of iconic forward Tim Duncan.
While Gasol doesn’t have the defensive chops that defined so much of Duncan’s stellar career, he has contributed to the Spurs’ early success in his own way. Now in his 17th NBA season, Gasol has demonstrated he still has the shooting and passing skills to be an asset at age 36. But more than anything, Gasol knows how to play the game.
“He’s the prototype almost of a Spur,” veteran guard Manu Ginobili said recently. “Very good player, high basketball IQ, experienced, foreigner. He understands the game.”
Gasol had his best game as a Spur in a 110-105 victory over Sacramento on Wednesday, scoring a season-high 24 points and adding nine rebounds, two assists and two blocks. He also finished without a turnover.
Gasol will be on familiar turf when the Spurs (9-3) take on the Lakers (7-5) Friday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The Silver and Black have won four in a row, matching their 4-0 start this season.
Popovich, who has 1,098 career regular-season victories, would go one up on Larry Brown, his mentor and a former Spurs coach himself, on the career list for NBA coaching victories. Popovich and Brown are tied for No. 7.
Before the Spurs left two for their two-game road trip to California, Gasol was asked how he feels whenever he returns to L.A. to play the Lakers.
“It’s always nice, it’s always fun, it’s always special, it’s always meaningful,” Gasol said. “A lot of games, a lot of good times and not-so-good times. There’s a lot of emotion that goes through me.”
A consummate pro, Gasol knows he invariably will be compared with Duncan, who is the only Spur to play on all five of the franchise’s championship teams. Comfortable in his own skin, Gasol never rolls his eyes or looks put out when he’s asked what it’s been like to take Duncan’s place in the Spurs’ starting lineup.
While Gasol still is adapting to the Spurs’ system, he has shown it’s just a matter of time before he reaches the level of consistency that has made him a six-time All-Star. He has come on in the last three games, averaging 20 points, 8.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.0 blocks. Gasol also has shot 50 percent (21/42) during the three-game stretch.
Gasol, named an All-Star last season, is averaging 11.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.3 blocks and has shot 50.4 percent in 12 games with the Silver and Black.
The Lakers have won four of their last five games and are 4-1 at the Staples Center this season. D’Angelo Russell scored 32 points and Julius Randle had his second career triple-double in L.A.’s 115-118 win over Brooklyn on Tuesday night at the Staples Center. Randle finished with 17 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists.
Jordan Clarkson, a 2010 Wagner High School graduate, plays guard for the Lakers. He came off the bench to score 13 points against Brooklyn.
Next up for Spurs: vs. Dallas, Monday, 7:30 p.m., AT&T Center
(© 2016 KENS)