EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) -The smile began to crease Kobe Bryant's face as he considered a response when asked his initial reaction to the Pau Gasol trade.
``No way. There's no way,'' he said Friday, acknowledging disbelief.
And when did he realize how well Gasol would fit in with the Los Angeles Lakers?
``I knew right off the bat, before he played a game because of his skills, his intellect, that he would be a perfect fit for us,'' Bryant answered without hesitation.
The Lakers acquired Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies on Feb. 1 for Kwame Brown, rookie Javaris Crittenton and two first-round draft picks.
Gasol, the NBA Rookie of the Year in 2002 and an All-Star four years later, wanted out of Memphis to play for a team that had a chance to win. The 27-year-old 7-footer, under contract for three more years, left as the franchise leader in 12 statistical categories, including points, rebounds and blocks.
The Grizzlies were 13-33 at the time of the trade; the Lakers were 28-16.
``I was frozen when it happened,'' Gasol recalled. ``I did not expect it, I did not believe it. I couldn't believe my life was going to change dramatically. I knew I could be a great fit here - the system, the players, the style of game. It all felt right.
``A pretty good deal, I think.''
A pretty good deal, to be sure. The Lakers went 22-5 with the Spanish star in the lineup, helping them earn the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. Even without Andrew Bynum, sidelined since Jan. 13 because of an injured left knee and with no timetable for a return, their postseason prospects appear quite good.
``I've played against him, I've had to guard him,'' Lamar Odom said of Gasol. ``Guys who can score like he can, if they can pass, it makes everybody better. He's really a power forward/center and he has a small forward type of game. He opens the court up for all of us.''
Odom said Gasol's influence on the Lakers was obvious immediately.
``We just got better the first night,'' Odom said, snapping his fingers for emphasis. ``He's one of the best players in the NBA.''
The Lakers were after Gasol for a long time. Asked when he knew Gasol would fit, coach Phil Jackson replied: ``I think the game that kind of told the tale was about a year ago. Memphis came into Staples and won a close game.''
Jackson referred to the Grizzlies' 88-86 victory over the Lakers on March 27, 2007, when Gasol showed an ability to contribute in several areas while getting 10 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists.
The Lakers face eighth-seeded Denver in the first round of the playoffs, with Game 1 Sunday at Staples Center. Nuggets coach George Karl knows what Gasol can do.
``They've got a big man in the low post,'' Karl said. ``Most of their low post until this year was Kobe there. They don't even play the triangle as much as they throw the ball down to Gasol and they have a couple of nice tricks off of their post cutting and post movement.
``He makes great decisions, and there's a comfort zone. They've kind of given Kobe the fast game and given Gasol the slow game.''
Gasol hasn't faced Denver this season, with the Grizzlies or the Lakers, But he's aware of Denver center Marcus Camby, the NBA defensive player of the year last season.
``A great player, a key piece for their team,'' Gasol said. ``He provides a lot of defensive intensity, offensive rebounding. It's a tough matchup for anybody. You try to outwork him. He gets a lot of offensive rebounds, you've got to put a body on him. On the other end, I'll have to attack him, use my skills.''
As expected, Gasol has been asked about his playoff past. He has never won a playoff game, going 0-12 with the Grizzlies, who were swept by San Antonio in 2004, Phoenix in 2005 and Dallas in 2006.
``It's fine, you can't change the past. It's there,'' Gasol said after answering several queries concerning his postseason failures. ``It doesn't mean anything now.''
One reporter asked Gasol about being swept in two previous playoff series and he quickly, politely, corrected the questioner, pointing out it was three, not two.
``I'm definitely looking forward to (Sunday), not so much because of my past, because of the great opportunity we have,'' he said.

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