Gasol Nearing Return

Utah Jazz v Los Angeles LakersPau Gasol went through extensive on-court work during practice on Wednesday, again showing progress towards an imminent return.

“I got to play up and down (today),” he said. “First time I got to play up and down since my injury (on Feb. 5 at Brooklyn). I played some 2-on-2’s, 3-on-3’s, (4-on-4’s) and some half court. I felt good. I still feel a little soreness, but it’s part of the process. It’s a matter of feeling confident to be more explosive and make more aggressive moves off of it, so that’ll be a mental thing.”

Gasol, who hit the six-week mark on Tuesday, experienced pain in his right foot after participating in 2-on-2 workouts on Saturday, but an ultrasound revealed “continued healing and improvement.”

“It’s around a three or four,” Gasol said when asked about the pain level in his foot. “It’s manageable right now. Still, when you come off an injury like that, as painful as it was when it happened, you’re still concerned because you still feel something. But as you feel more comfortable, pain does not increase and hopefully decreases, you feel better about it and you’re able to push through it more.”

With Gasol inching closer to seeing the floor, coach Mike D’Antoni acknowledged that he’d eventually start the four-time All-Star alongside Dwight Howard. When that happens, it will be the first time since Jan. 20 that Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Gasol and Howard will start together. In all, that unit has played just 17 games, or a total of 173 minutes.

The 7-foot Spaniard came off the bench in eight games earlier this season, with D’Antoni electing to use Gasol with the second unit. The first-year Lakers coach stated that he went the move because of numerous factors, namely health.

“There were a lot of decisions made when Steve Nash wasn’t 100 percent on the floor, when Dwight Howard wasn’t 100 percent, when Pau wasn’t 100 percent,” he said. “When they’re all 100 percent, it can work. That’s what management and we envisioned. Pau is too talented and too good, Dwight is too talented and too good, Kobe is and Steve is – and you go down the list – not to be able to figure it out, and I think we can.”

Howard’s noticeable improved play (18.8 points, 15.5 rebounds, 3.0 blocks in the last six games) is a sign he’s started to turn a corner. The collective hope from the coaching staff and players will be integrating Gasol back into the mix, and by the time the playoffs roll around, the team will be where it wants to be.

“It will change things up cause we’ll be playing with two big guys instead of spreading the floor,” D’Antoni explained. “There are things we have to work out. We’re looking forward to seeing what we have and seeing if it’s good enough to cause some damage.”

Since the All-Star break, the Lakers have caused some damage, running off an 11-4 record and climbing to the No. 8 seed in the West despite missing 65 total games to the four best players and 37 to backup point guard Steve Blake.

“If our minds and hearts are into it, we can be a heck of a team and we can beat anybody,” Gasol said. “We have too many guys who can put the ball in the hole for us to focus on one or two guys mainly. Once we share the ball and we really want to defend, get back in transition and limit our turnovers, we’re a tough team. We just have to bring it 48 minutes a night. That’s the big difference.”