Posted Mar 16 2011 9:56AM
The solution for Chris Bosh has been standing next to him twice already this season, once on Christmas Day and again last week. All Bosh had to do was ask Pau Gasol.
With the Lakers, it's always going to be Kobe Bryant's game to win. The challenge for Gasol and the rest of Kob's teammates is to simply keep up. With the Heat, the only difference in the final seconds is who wins the politicking on the sidelines or the arm wrestling match between LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Bosh is usually a spectator.
For players such as Gasol and Bosh, the burden always seem to be to prove and re-prove yourself, as who you are and who you're not.
For all of the jeering that will certainly be directed at James and Wade if the star-studded Heat come up short in the playoffs, it will most likely be Bosh who hears the code words: finesse, athletic, graceful.
And the one that cuts like a knife: soft.
The message is already being delivered when Wade says: "We have to figure out the way to help Chris be more aggressive."
The Heat pick him up and dust him off like they would a little brother. They pat him on the head. It can make him want to do something, perhaps the wrong thing.
"There is a danger to reacting to what you hear other people say," said Gasol, speaking of himself with words that could apply to Bosh. "At the same time, it is difficult to not react. As a player, you know your strengths and your weaknesses and as a professional you're always trying to work on the weaknesses, the flaws, trying to eliminate them.
"It is one thing to hear people make criticisms of your game and point out that you cannot do this or you cannot do that. But it is different when you hear the other things. They don't come right out and say it. But you know the meaning -- you're not tough enough and you don't know how to compete."
Gasol heard it June 2008 when the Lakers were losing in the NBA Finals to the Celtics. Just four months after he arrived in L.A. from Memphis as the ingredient needed to complete a championship lineup, the implication was suddenly that a piece was missing from the makeup of his personal puzzle.
With an injured Andrew Bynum missing from the Lakers lineup, Gasol was vulnerable to the hulking, physical front line of Boston. After all, was anybody really going to blame Kobe?
Bosh is on the horns of the same prickly dilemma. While he shared the stage and spotlight with James and Wade at the "victory" party at American Airlines Arena back in July, he does not share their playoff pedigrees.
James, of course, has always been the alpha dog every time he's worn a jersey, able to pull the wagon a long way, even to the 2007 NBA Finals. While Wade shared the bill with Shaquille O'Neal, he was the one with the top line on the marquee and virtually every key shot when the Heat won the championship in 2006.
Bosh ... well, he was in Toronto when fans were getting revved up for the hockey playoffs.
"Chris hasn't been in a lot of these situation and moments in his career," Wade said following the Heat's loss to Portland. "A lot of after All-Star breaks for Chris have been planning his vacations. We're just trying to help him understand the important of this time. He's a competitor. He's a very good basketball player. I think sometimes the guys that have been through it can help him understand the moment and really what's going on."
Condescending, even if partly true.
It is the kind of remark that can light a guy's fire or stick in his craw. Bosh has since barked that he needs to be more aggressive, that he needs the ball closer to the basket in scoring position in order to play like a big man.
But he isn't a big man, at least not the kind with the muscles on top of muscles who can throw his weight around in order to get points and grab rebounds. He's the big man who can use his speed, quickness, footwork to dive toward the hoop and catch passes for buckets or knife through openings to go through the paint.
It was something that Gasol realized in the aftermath of the Finals loss to the Celtics. He worked during the offseason to improve his strength. But he did not alter his game to meet the expectations or the desires of others.
Since the alarm bells went off when the Heat lost their fourth straight game, Bosh has responded. He's shot 27-for-44 (.614), averaging 24 points and 10.3 rebounds as Miami has ripped off three wins in a row over the Lakers, Grizzlies and Spurs.
He can get himself good looks at the basket. He can take advantage of the 1-on-1 matchups he'll usually see when James and Wade are being doubled. He can draw double-teams and open the court when one of them are on the bench.
It's funny how Gasol's stature in the game changed by putting a pair of championship rings on his fingers the past two seasons, but not his reputation. Kobe can shoot 8-for-21 in a loss to the Heat, then go back out onto the court for personal shooting practice and he's a fierce, relentless competitor. But when the Lakers get torched, Gasol's fingers and toes, at the very least, are singed.
It's the role he plays and accepts while knowing exactly what and how much he brings to the table.
"From season to season, from month to month, from game to game, you always want to improve," Gasol said. "What you don't want to change is who you are. You have to remember, there's a reason you're here."
For Bosh, the opinions are everywhere. The answers, though, may come from the guy who's stood in his shoes.
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