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Lakers Prep for Home Regular-Season Finale

140412_youngWhile the Lakers go into Sunday’s matchup vs. Memphis losers of their last six, the Grizzlies are battling for one of the final two playoff spots with Dallas and Phoenix.

Marc Gasol, who missed 23 games earlier this season with a sprained MCL, is one of the key reasons for Memphis’ success. Since his return to the lineup, the Grizzlies have rattled off a 30-13 record. With him out of the lineup, they went 10-13.

Gasol has come on strong of late in particular, averaging 20.5 points and 12.0 rebounds on 60.7 percent field goals in wins over Miami and Philly in the last two.

While Marc has been instrumental in the Grizzlies’ postseason push, older brother, Pau, has been sidelined the last five games and nine of the last 10 due to vertigo. Pau, as well as Steve Nash (nerve root irritation), did not practice on Saturday and both are being listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game. Chris Kaman, who has also missed the last five, went through basketball-related activities but is still doubtful to play.

After Friday’s game vs. Golden State, the Lakers set a franchise low for most losses in a season with 54, although a rash of injuries and a lack of continuity in the starting lineup have attributed to that factor.

“We started off with everybody in place,” Nick Young said. “And when people get hurt, it forces other people to play different roles and play out of rhythm.”

Young, who missed 17 games total earlier this season, has come on strong of late, averaging 24.3 points on 49.5 percent field goals and 42.6 percent on three-pointers in April. Despite the up-and-down season, the L.A. native had nothing but positive things to say about his time here.

“For me personally, it was great,” he said. “Even though we kept losing, I got an opportunity to play at home, play for the Lakers and I learned a lot being around Kobe (Bryant) and (Steve) Nash and the coaching staff and I think it helped my game blossom.”

Jodie Meeks’ game has also improved considerably from a year ago. Meeks is currently posting career bests across the board in points (15.6), rebounds (2.6), assists (1.8), steals (1.4) and field-goal percentage (45.6), while logging a team-high 33.1 minutes per game.

“I’ve gotten more minutes and coach Mike D’Antoni has given me a lot of confidence to go out there and play freely,” he said. “He doesn’t worry about mistakes as long as you’re playing hard. He gives you a lot of rope to do what you have to do and play your game.”

As for the final three games of the regular season, Meeks hopes to see the team end on a high note to end the season.

“Collectively as a group, we want to finish strong,” he said. “You can accomplish something every game. For the most part, we want to go out, not give up and keep playing hard. We have a good opportunity the last game at home to try and come out with a good mindset and try to get that win.”

Thursday Practice Report

ts_140410farmar670Injuries have been a recurring theme all year long for the Lakers, and with four games remaining in the regular season, the return of Pau Gasol remains uncertain. Gasol has missed the last four games – eight of the last nine – because of vertigo and is being listed as doubtful for Friday’s game vs. Golden State.

“He’ll play if he can, but he has to be medically cleared,” D’Antoni said of Gasol’s status. “He and Gary (Vitti) will come to me if he can go, but I don’t think it’s clear right now whether he can go or not.”

Aside from Gasol, Steve Nash is also being listed as doubtful. Nash passed Mark Jackson for third all-time in assists in NBA history vs. Houston, but aggravated his nerve root irritation issues in the process. Nash said after the game that he doubts he’ll be able to return to action in the final four games.

Chris Kaman is still out with a calf injury, and Kobe Bryant, Xavier Henry and Kent Bazemore have respectively been ruled out for the season. In total, the Lakers have missed 292 games due to injury/illness this season.

“I think the guys are going to play hard regardless,” Kaman said. “We’ve had some games where we’ve been in it and we’ve been really close lately. I think you’re going to see us battle the rest of the year.”

Although the Lakers have been hampered by numerous injuries, they did get Jordan Farmar back vs. Houston on Tuesday. Farmar had missed the last 11 games because of a strained groin and has also suffered hamstring tears on two separate occasions earlier in the season. He scored 15 points and dished out eight assists in his return, to go along with five boards, three steals and two blocks.

“I thought he played well,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He gives us a guy who can really score and puts a lot of heat on the defense.”

On the year, Farmar has been particularly efficient from beyond the arc as he currently ranks fourth in the NBA in three-point field-goal percentage at 45.8, trailing Kyle Korver (47.8), Pablo Prigioni (46.3) and Anthony Morrow (46.1). That mark would be a career high, besting his 44.0 clip set during the 2011-12 season in New Jersey.

Gasol Probable to Play vs. Portland

ts_140331paugasol670After missing the last four games because of vertigo, Pau Gasol practiced in full on Monday and is being called probable for Tuesday’s game against Portland.

“We’ll see,” Gasol said of his prospects playing vs. Portland. “We’ll see how my body reacts when I get up tomorrow after the exercise today. I’d love to.”

In his last game action vs. Orlando last Sunday, Gasol played 19 minutes, but did not come out for the second half after experiencing dizziness and nausea.

“It was frustrating,” Gasol said. “You don’t really know why it happened, you can only guess after all the tests are done. So, I just had to let it calm down and get back to a normal life and get through a workout and practice like I did today. It wasn’t any contact, but I got through it pretty good. I’m not any worse than when I started, so that’s a good thing.”

Gasol had been sidelined 10 games earlier this year due to a strained groin and an upper respiratory infection. The doctors could not determine, however, if his condition is in any way related to the illness that affected him during the first half of the season. The Spaniard recalled post practice how he’s felt over the last week while trying to recover.

“Just really light-headed, dizzy and drowsy state for five or six days at home without really moving much,” Gasol said. “Just laying and letting my system readjust. It was scary. It was a scary moment for me and my family and the ones that love me.”

In his place, Chris Kaman was inserted into the starting lineup after not playing the previous 10 games. Kaman is coming off a 28-point, 17-rebound, six-assist outing vs. Phoenix.

Although Gasol might return to the court, the Lakers will likely be without Xavier Henry and Jordan Farmar. Henry (wrist and knee), who has missed the last two games, is being called “doubtful.” Henry suffered a torn ligament in his wrist against Washington on Mar. 21 and missed the following game vs. Orlando, but suited up vs. New York and at Milwaukee. Henry also missed nearly two months earlier this season with a bone bruise in his right knee.

Farmar, who was diagnosed with a moderate groin strain on Mar. 18, has been sidelined the last seven games. According to team spokesman John Black, Farmar will see a doctor either later today or Tuesday, at which point an update will be given on his status. He is being called “doubtful” vs. Portland.

Nash, Henry Game-Time Decisions vs. Orlando

140322_DAntoniSteve Nash, who saw court action for the first time since Feb. 11 vs. Washington, did not participate in practice on Saturday. Instead, he underwent treatment, and is being considered a game-time decision for Sunday’s game.

Nash played 19 minutes on Friday, and finished with five points, 11 assists, four rebounds and three steals. He was very effective in his return – finishing at a plus-eight – but exited for good with 2:14 left as a precautionary measure.

“For Sunday’s game we’ll be cautious,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “If he feels good, he’ll play. If there’s any doubt, he won’t.”

Nash has played in only 11 contests overall this season, battling the same nerve issues since last year after fracturing his lower leg in the second game at Portland on Halloween.

Xavier Henry was also a non-participant in practice as he underwent an MRI on his left wrist. D’Antoni said he will also be a game-time decision, pending the results. Henry scored 12 points off the bench vs. Washington and was coming off one of his better games of the season on Wednesday vs. San Antonio when he tallied a team-high 24 points.

Because of so many injuries this year, the Lakers have trotted out 30 different starting lineups. The coaching staff hinted at another possible change for Sunday’s game, with Wesley Johnson (over his upper respiratory infection) moving back into the three spot, plus Jordan Hill sliding in at the four.

Bazemore’s Emergence

bazemore_quote1When the Lakers traded Steve Blake for Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks, they got in Bazemore a player that had flashed some versatile talent in the NBA Summer League, but had barely played enough actual NBA minutes to prove it.

As an undrafted rookie free agent in 2012, even making the Warriors roster was very much an exception to the typical rule. The now 24-year-old played only 4.4 minutes per game in 61 games (a total of only 267 minutes), but showed enough promise to be re-signed for 2013-14. His playing time increased only slightly to 6.1 minutes per game (a total of 268 minutes in 44 games) this season in Golden State.

But since the trade to Los Angeles, Bazemore has nearly surpassed his total minutes in either season for the Warriors in only seven games. Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni has been impressed enough with Bazemore’s play to not only start the Old Dominion product, but play him a team-high 32.5 minutes in those contests.

Brooklyn Nets v Los Angeles LakersHe’s used that playing time to put up 15.8 points per game on efficient shooting numbers for a wing – 46.5 percent from the field and 46.2 percent from three – while adding 3.7 boards, 2.5 assists and 1.7 steals per game.

“It’s been pretty good just being able to play and show what I’ve been working on since the day I stepped in the league,” said Bazemore. “It’s been fun especially coming into this situation where our back is against the wall. I’m very familiar with that. I grew up this way with not much going for you so you gotta fight and claw, and that’s how you bring the best out yourself. When things are not going well for you, how do you react? So this is a great situation for myself.”

His athleticism and energy has helped the Lakers score 24.0 fastbreak points per game, compared to the 12.7 they averaged before he entered the starting lineup, a mark which ranked 17th in the NBA*.
*Phoenix’s 18.9 FB points per game is a league high, but 5.1 shy of L.A.’s mark with Bazemore.

In related news, L.A. are also scoring more points in the paint, up to 50.7 in the last six games, which would rank fourth in the NBA, thanks in part to Bazemore’s transition game, plus his ability to get to the hoop in the halfcourt. For the season, the Lakers rank 20th at 39.9 a night.

A positive young player who’s quick to credit – and very outwardly root for – his teammates, Bazemore said he’s already taken quite a bit from his six games in Los Angeles.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned that is that I belong,” he said. “I’ve faced guys that I’ve watched destroy the league. I played against a lot of good players and (held my own). The confidence of me being able to play, I think I do belong. I still have a lot of room to grow and still have a lot of room as a player. There are a lot of things I want to fix, so that’s the fun and the challenge.”

Henry Expected to Play at Portland

blog_140302_henryAfter playing in two rehab assignment games with the Los Angeles D-Fenders, Xavier Henry fully participated in practice on Sunday with the Lakers and is expected return at Portland.

“He practiced and looked good,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He’s got a couple pounds he needs to get rid of because he hasn’t done any activity in six weeks, but he’ll play some minutes.”

Henry has been sidelined the team’s last 28 games with a bone bruise and an abnormality of the lateral meniscus. He originally suffered the injury vs. Philly on Dec. 29.

The Kansas product recorded 15 points, three rebounds and four steals in 23 minutes with the D-Fenders in Thursday’s 121-103 loss to the Texas Legends. He followed that game up with 19 points and three steals in 26 minutes in Saturday’s 137-126 overtime loss.

“I just wanted to get out there and play really,” Henry said. “I wanted to make it through a game without my knee swelling up, without it getting really stiff, stuff like that. It responded well for both games and the practice, so right now I feel pretty good.”

Prior to his rehab assignment, Henry had his knee drained of fluid and received a cortisone shot on Feb. 12. He had a number of setbacks in his attempt to return earlier, in part due to swelling in the knee.

“When you get a lot of swelling, it forces other things to happen in whatever joint it is,” Henry said. “And they didn’t want anything else to get hurt while my knee was swollen up, so we’d have to hold off, let the swelling get out and try it again.”

Now he maintains his knee feels much better and it’s just a matter of working his way back into game shape.

“I’m pain free, I feel good,” Henry said post practice. “Now it’s all about my wind, my body, trying to eat right, trying to get back in shape. That’s just what comes with two months of not playing basketball.”

Lakers Better With Small Line Ups

Oklahoma City Thunder v Los Angeles LakersThe Lakers have struggled through an injury-riddled season during which 212 games have been missed to players, led by Kobe Bryant’s 52 and 46 from Steve Nash, eliminating any real chance of competing in a loaded West in which the current No. 8 seed is nine games over .500.

With a 19-39 record, not many of the statistics look very good for L.A., but a look at the team’s 10 most commonly used line ups reveals a point that coach Mike D’Antoni’s been making all season: the Lakers have been considerably better when they go small.

“Going small” in the NBA essentially means using a “stretch four” instead of a power forward, the former of which for the Lakers has been either Shawne Williams, Ryan Kelly or (with the current line up) Wesley Johnson.

Here’s the plus/minus for those 10 most-used groups, adjusted per 100 possessions, with offensive and defensive ratings included:

Lineup: Marshall/Blake/Johnson/Williams/Kaman (SMALL)
Minutes: 53
OffRtg: 106.4
DefRtg: 100.3
NetRtg: +6.2*
*This group outscored opponents by 6.2 points per 100 possessions.

Lineup: Farmar/Meeks/Henry/Johnson/Hill (SMALL)
Minutes: 49
OffRtg: 112.8
DefRtg: 110.4
NetRtg: +2.4

Lineup: Marshall/Meeks/Young/Kelly/Gasol (SMALL)
Minutes: 69
OffRtg: 121.7
DefRtg: 120.4
NetRtg: +1.3

Lineup: Marshall/Meeks/Johnson/Kelly/Gasol (SMALL)
Minutes: 119
OffRtg: 102.3
DefRtg: 101.4
NetRtg: +0.9

Lineup: Nash/Blake/Young/Gasol/Kaman (BIG)
Minutes: 44
OffRtg: 92.7
DefRtg: 93.4
NetRtg: -0.6

Lineup: Blake/Meeks/Johnson/Hill/Gasol (BIG)
Minutes: 152
OffRtg: 100.4
DefRtg: 107.6
NetRtg: -7.3

Lineup: Marshall/Meeks/Bazemore/Johnson/Gasol (SMALL)
Minutes: 57
OffRtg: 90.3
DefRtg: 100.7
NetRtg: -10.5

Lineup: Marshall/Meeks/Johnson/Hill/Gasol (BIG)
Minutes: 56
OffRtg: 83.5
DefRtg: 104.9
NetRtg: -21.4

Lineup: Bryant/Meeks/Johnson/Hill/Gasol (BIG)
Minutes: 50
OffRtg: 84.1
DefRtg: 117.0
NetRtg: -32.9

Lineup: Marshall/Meeks/Johnson/Gasol/Sacre (BIG)
Minutes: 51
OffRtg: 91.8
DefRtg: 130.1
NetRtg: -38.2

Before L.A.’s game at Memphis, D’Antoni explained why he thinks the smaller line ups have been more effective:

Houston Rockets v Los Angeles LakersQ: On small vs. big line ups:
D’Antoni: We want a certain type of basketball, and we’re trying to establish that and we’re trying to put everything into it. It’s clear our that the numbers say when you spread the floor and move the ball and get up and down the floor, we have a lot better chance to win. That’s what we’re going to do. We can adjust during the game. For example, if David West was killing Wesley (Johnson) (on Tuesday night), then something’s going to happen. Wesley has to come out or we have to go big orwhatever. But Wesley played well and that did not hurt us last night. It gave us a chance to spread the floor, score at a good rate and stay in the game.When Wesley got in foul trouble and Ryan (Kelly) got in foul trouble and we went big, it all caved in cause they’re a better, bigger team than we are. You have to play a little different. If you’re over manned a little bit and you try to match up, it’s not going to work out.

Q: On what playing big does for the rest of the team if he were to start two bigs vs. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol instead of Pau Gasol with a stretch four (Johnson):
D’Antoni: Well, what will happen is our floor will be closed down and offensively we’re not going to be as good. You’re not going to stop Zach Randolph that much. He’s going to get his numbers. Marc Gasol is going to be good, and they’ll beat you. Plus we want to establish our identity. This is how we’re going to play and we’re going to get better at it and we’re going to push the ball and we’re going to evaluate talent and get better at it. It’s frustrating some players and I understand that obviously if you lose playing one way, let’s play the other way. So you can get killed the other way. We’re going by numbers, we’re going by feel, we want to establish an identity and we don’t want to be all over the board every night changing something up and matching up to other teams and then just grasping the straws.

Q: On how Johnson approaches defending (bigger guys):
D’Antoni: I thought Wesley played really well (at Indiana). He needs to keep doing that and being assertive and being quick and then we’ll see. If we can’t do that, we’ll have to get bigger and try to limit them as much as we can.

Bazemore, Brooks Impress in Laker Debuts

Boston Celtics v Los Angeles LakersNewly acquired Lakers, Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks, both played big roles in helping L.A. snap an eight-game home losing streak with a 101-92 win over Boston.

In particular, coach Mike D’Antoni was pleased with Bazemore’s play on the defensive side of the ball.

“Biggest thing was his energy on defense, his disruptability and all that, getting out on the break, running the wings like we told him,” D’Antoni said. “He did everything we talked about. Then he added his confidence and making big shots and making big plays.”

The Old Dominion product finished with a career-high 15 points, to go along with four assists, three rebounds and two steals. He also logged a career-high 33 minutes.

“I was able to get the mistakes out of the way, get in the game flow, knock the rust off a bit, get into a rhythm,” Bazemore said.

Brooks, meanwhile, scored a season-high 14 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter to spearhead L.A.’s comeback from an 11-point deficit.

“He got us back in the game,” D’Antoni said. “He came up with the big steals. He was very instrumental in winning the game.”

Known more for his scoring ability coming out of college, the former first-round pick of the Celtics was also a difference maker on defense (three steals).

“I like that he cracked back a couple times and showed some energy on defense,” D’Antoni said. “He showed some willingness to concentrate on defense.”

Pau Gasol echoed similar sentiments about his new teammates.

“They just brought energy,” he said. “They both were aggressive and played with confidence. I think they were excited about the opportunity, so I’m sure it felt good for them.”

Gasol also returned to the starting lineup after nursing a strained groin for three weeks. In his first game action since Jan. 31 vs. Charlotte, the Spaniard notched 16 points, seven boards, three assists and two blocks in 22 minutes.

“I feel good,” he said post practice. “Now the rest of the body has to wake up and get back to being on the floor. The groin is good and hopefully it stays that way.”

Along with Gasol feeling better by the day, the Lakers will also get Nick Young (knee) back on Sunday vs. Brooklyn. The USC product has been sidelined the last six games with a non-displaced fracture of the patella and a bone bruise.

“I didn’t think it was going to be this long, to tell you the truth,” he said. “I’m just happy to be back. I can’t wait to get out there tomorrow.”

Xavier Henry, who was cleared to practice on Friday, went through team drills today. He’s been out of action since Dec. 31 with a bone bruise, but D’Antoni acknowledged he’s at least a week away from returning to game action.

Lakers Round Up

Houston Rockets v Los Angeles LakersHere’s a look at the latest information on the Lakers, who resume their post All-Star break schedule with the Celtics on Friday:

IN: Kendall Marshall, Jodie Meeks, Jordan Farmar, Wesley Johnson, Ryan Kelly, Robert Sacre, Jordan Hill, Chris Kaman
OUT: Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Xavier Henry, Nick Young
AVAILABLE: Kent Bazemore, MarShon Brooks*
*Bazemore and Brooks are expected to be available at Mike D’Antoni’s discretion.

With Mike D’Antoni suggesting that Jordan Farmar’s minutes could be limited for a spell – he played just 20 against Houston – as he continues to try and fully get over his problematic left hamstring, the starting PG slot will likely go to Kendall Marshall, at least on Friday. Steve Blake is in Golden State, and Steve Nash remains “day to day” with his nerve issues.

Pau Gasol is expected to make his return to the starting line up, joining Marshall, Jodie Meeks, Wesley Johnson and Ryan Kelly. As has been the case so often in 2013-14, this line up could change by game time.

Bios on the two newest Lakers from LAL’s press release:

Kent Bazemore, 24, has appeared in 44 games for the Warriors this season, averaging 2.3 points in 6.1 minutes per game. In his two NBA seasons (both with the Warriors), the Old Dominion product holds averages of 2.1 points in 5.1 minutes per game over 105 contests. After not being selected in the 2012 NBA draft, Bazemore was signed by the Warriors as a free agent on July 26, 2012. Bazemore was awesome in the Las Vegas Summer League, but hasn’t been able to find court time for the full side.

MarShon Brooks, 25, has appeared in a combined 17 games with Golden State and Boston this season, averaging 2.6 points and 1.4 rebounds in 5.2 minutes per contest. Originally drafted by the Celtics with the 25th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, Brooks owns career averages of 7.8 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 146 games (49 starts) over three seasons with the New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets, Boston and Golden State. As a rookie with New Jersey in 2011-12, the 6’5” swingman averaged 12.6 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 56 games (47 starts), earning All-Rookie Second Team honors.

Charlotte Bobcats v Los Angeles LakersTHE SPANIARD REMAINS IN PURPLE AND GOLD:
Surviving another trade deadline despite myriad rumors that have subsisted for three years now, Pau Gasol is set to return from a strained groin that’s kept him out of action since Jan. 31. His production was elite in January — 20.8 points, 11.9 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.7 blocks on 51 percent field goals and 77 percent free throws — and he expects to return to similar form.

Gasol said after Thursday’s practice that he feels pretty well, and has suffered no setbacks through full contact sessions. Of course, if he wakes up and responds poorly on Friday morning, his status could change. Meanwhile, Gasol’s nutshell take on not being traded: ultimately he’s happy to still be in Los Angeles, and is pleased the Lakers turned down what he said he expected were various offers for his services. Of course, Gasol plans on taking a full and open look around the league when he becomes a free agent over the summer. Mitch Kupchak said the Lakers will “absolutely” consider bringing him back, but many factors will come into play.

The knock on Kendall Marshall heading into his NBA career, and into the 2013-14 season with the Lakers after his D-League call up, was that he couldn’t shoot at an NBA level. Known for his passing at the University of North Carolina, Marshall struggled with his percentages in limited playing time as a rookie for the Suns. In 14.6 minutes a night in 48 games (three starts), he shot 37.1 percent from the field (56 of 151) and 31.5 percent from three (23 of 73).

But in his 26 games (17 starts) for the Lakers, Marshall leads the NBA in 3-point percentage, hitting 50 of 105 for a 47.6 percentage, ahead of more well-known sharpshooters Anthony Morrow (47.5), Kyle Korver (47.3) and Marco Belinelli (45.6).

Marshall simplified his reason for success: confidence. Certainly, being the only health point guard on the roster in January, thus assuring minutes, helped bring that about.

In his 17 starts, Marshall is averaging 12.2 assists (with 12.5 points), a mark that would easily lead the NBA. Chris Paul is the only player averaging double digit assists (11.1), with Stephen Curry’s 9.0 ranking 2nd. The former Suns lottery pick has had at least 14 assists seven times this season, tied for the most in the NBA, including his 16 against Houston.

While tossing dimes, Marshall’s also taking care of the basketball, currently ranking 5th in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.5) among all guards, behind only Pablo Prigioni (4.5), Paul (4.4), Nate Wolters (3.9) and Jose Calderon (3.8).

The Lakers suffered a remarkable 191 games missed due to injury before the All-Star break, by far the most in the NBA:

Kobe Bryant: 48

Steve Nash: 42

Jordan Farmar: 30

Steve Blake: 26

Xavier Henry: 23

Pau Gasol: 10

Chris Kaman: 5

Jodie Meeks: 5

Nick Young: 5

Wesley Johnson: 1

Jordan Hill: 1

TOTAL: 196

Here’s a player-by-player update on the players with ongoing issues:

 According to the Lakers, Kobe Bryant continues to have swelling and pain in his knee, and thus does not have an MRI scheduled in the immediate future. Bryant was last examined prior to the Lakers vs. Pacers game on Jan. 28, when a similar conclusion on the left knee where he suffered a fracture at Memphis on Dec. 17 was reached. His subsequent rehabilitation has been limited mostly to work on a stationary bike. Bryant recently addressed the media in advance of the 2014 All-Star Game on Sunday and gave another general update on where he’s at in his recovery and rehab process.

Henry had his right knee drained of fluid and received a cortisone shot on Feb. 12, and expected to be out another four weeks. He originally injured his knee on Dec. 29 vs. Philly, but continues to work out primarily on his own or with assistant coaches, and is expected to be re-evaluated on Friday.

Young injured his left knee at Cleveland on Feb. 5 and underwent an MRI the following day in Philly. He was diagnosed with a non-displaced fracture of the patella and a bone bruise, and was expected to be out a minimum of two weeks before being re-evaluated. Young practiced in limited fashion on Thursday and is making progress towards a return, but won’t play on Friday.

In Pau Gasol’s absence, the minutes had increased for Chris Kaman, and he took advantage by putting up some good numbers particularly in the four games prior to Wednesday’s loss to Houston: 22.0 points, 10.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.3 blocks per game.

However, Kaman appeared to grow tired with the Rockets repeatedly force-feeding a hungry Dwight Howard early, and managed only nine points on 4 of 11 FG’s with four boards in 22 minutes.

With Gasol’s return, his minutes are likely to decrease, as Kaman averaged 25.4 in February (sans Gasol) but only 13.6 in January.

Wesley Johnson took advantage of an increased role in the absence of so many wing players, and is averaging 16.6 points per game in his last seven, hitting 52.2 percent of his field goals and 52.0 percent of his triples. Meanwhile, he’s grabbing 5.4 rebounds with 1.1 blocks, and had 24 points on 9 of 13 shots against Houston.

Nash Expects to Play Tuesday vs. Utah

ts_140210nash670Steve Nash went through the non-physical portion of practice on Monday with the team, then received treatment from the training staff. He fully expects to play vs. Utah on Tuesday, unless he is at risk of injuring himself more, both in the short term and long term.

“There’s no reason to sit out if it’s better tomorrow, and I feel pretty good,” he said. “But if it is an issue, then I’m definitely not going to try to jeopardize it any further.”

In addressing the media, Nash acknowledged the nerve is still a little irritated, although he felt much better in the morning.

Nash exited the Lakers-Bulls game on Sunday in the third quarter, after making contact with Kirk Hinrich. He tried playing through it, but left for good because of “precautionary reasons.”

“I wasn’t that scared initially because it was such an innocuous play,” Nash said. “It didn’t really hurt that much on the contact. When I tried to push off, I felt the nerve really light up. Kind of frustrating more than anything. It’s something that we can – I hope – get under control quickly here because it doesn’t feel like something that’s too serious.”

Nash played two of the three games – at Minnesota and at Philly – on the Lakers most recent road trip. He had a game-high 19 points, to go along with five assists and four rebounds on his 40th birthday at Philly. Prior, he had been sidelined 42 games, working constantly with the Lakers training staff, while making multiple trips to Vancouver to work with his personal trainer/physical therapist.

“It’s been a tough road,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of things to overcome, but you have to have a fighting mentality and spirit, and not let it get on top of you.”