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Gasol has points to prove in the rematch

By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / June 3, 2010

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LOS ANGELES — As the NBA Finals begin tonight, a number of story lines deserve the attention of Lakers coach Phil Jackson. But the one that most intrigues him is the matchup between Pau Gasol and Kevin Garnett.

After his acquisition from Memphis in 2008, Gasol gave the Lakers a missing piece that helped boost them into the Finals. But against the Celtics, he was criticized for playing soft. The Celtics averaged 31.3 rebounds in the six-game series, the Lakers 26.5.

Two years later, Gasol is a fully integrated part of the Laker offense, and Jackson knows the Celtics will want to push the 7-footer around and get him outside his comfort zone.

“Kevin is like the force of the defense, he’s really the glue that kind of holds their defense together out there a lot of times with his activity level, his ability to help and recover on guys,’’ Jackson said. “Pau is like the guy that we have to have to be part of the scoring combo that we’ve had with Kobe [Bryant] and Pau. So he has to provide some of that for us in this series against probably one of the top defenders in the game.’’

Gasol is shooting 56.5 percent from the field this postseason and averaging 20 points per game, second on the team to Bryant’s 29.4. Gasol averaged 9.3 rebounds in the 2008 playoffs, then 10.8 last year, and now 10.9.

“He’s a talented guy. He might be, as far as scoring-wise, the best post player in the league,’’ said Celtics center Kendrick Perkins. “He’s got a right-hand jumper, left-hand jumper, a turnaround. You just try to go out there and make it tough on him.’’

Last year’s Laker championship, at Orlando’s expense, did not wipe away the memories of the one that got away in 2008.

“Even though we’re playing against a rival that there’s a lot of history behind this matchup and there’s a personal history from 2008, you know, our main focus is to do what it takes to beat them in this series and come out as NBA champion at the end of the series,’’ Gasol said.

“Taking all that aside, which is really important, obviously there’s feelings involved and there’s memories that are in there, which should help us, should help us to push through and to battle even harder.’’

Bynum should play
Andrew Bynum participated in most of practice yesterday, but it remains to be seen how much he will benefit from having fluid drained from his right knee this week.

Bynum said there has not been any additional swelling but most of the fluid had returned. He participated in most drills but sat out a quick scrimmage while he had his knee wrapped and iced. Bynum said he doesn’t feel his knee is any worse and “there’s nothing physically that I can’t do.’’

Jackson said he expects Bynum to be ready.

Watch and learn
Veteran forward Ron Artest may be playing in his first Finals, but he has been studying the last stage of the postseason for a few years. His first exposure came in 2008, when he attended a Celtics-Lakers game. He said that experience will help him when the series begins tonight.

“If I ever got to the Finals, I never wanted it to be a first-time experience,’’ Artest said. “So I went the first year when they played Boston in a hostile environment. I went the second year when they played Orlando. Every year I got knocked out the playoffs, I went to a playoff game. So that’s why I’m able to relax. I already feel like I’ve been here.’’

Monique Walker can be reached at mwalker@globe.com.

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