OKLAHOMA CITY — The improvement in the tendinitis in both of Pau Gasol’s knees hasn’t proven substantial enough to suit up when the Lakers (9-10) play the Oklahoma City Thunder (15-4) here tonight at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“He’s getting better and he feels a lot better,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said after morning shootaround about Gasol. “But I don’t know how that translates. Steve Nash is feeling a lot better too, and he’s still out.
Yes, Nash has already missed 17 games because of a non-displaced fracture in his left leg. He definitely won’t play tonight against the Thunder or when the Lakers host the Utah Jazz Sunday at Staples Center. Meanwhile, Lakers guard Steve Blake is expected to miss six to eight more weeks after having surgery Wednesday to treat a torn abdominal strain.
As for Gasol, he missed the past two games because of the worsening tendinitis that has existed since training camp. But he had expressed some optimism following the Lakers’ win over New Orleans that he could return against the Thunder.
But that won’t happen. Instead, Antawn Jamison will start at power forward for the third consecutive game. He has posted 15 points in both appearances and has improved the team’s spacing.
“That’s why he’s an important part of what we do. But Pau can also do that,” D’Antoni said. “I know he doesn’t love to be on the perimeter all the time. But we have to have a combination. He’ll be a center a lot also so he’ll get his touches inside. That’s why he’s so valuable. He’s a skilled big guy. We can still play with two seven-footers. Not many teams can do that.”
So far that dynamic hasn’t worked out.
Gasol has averaged a career-low 12.6 points on 42 percent shooting and 8.8 rebounds in 34.8 minutes. D’Antoni also benched him late in two games in favor of Jamison within the past week. Although Gasol and D’Antoni have acknowledged the learning curve in his conditioning and playing away from the post in the Lakers’ new system, the team currently is clinging to the belief that most of the struggles will evaporate once Gasol fully heals his tendinitis.
“I just don’t think he felt real well to be able to play as well as he could,” D’Antoni said. “When that happens, he’s trying to explain to you guys what’s going on. He doesn’t want to make an excuse, so how do you explain it? He’ll feel better and he will play better. But somebody that big and that talented has won two titles. It shouldn’t be any question about his character or how he plays. I don’t question it. We just need to integrate it a little bit better.”
Still, that has hardly quieted rumblings about possibly trading him. But Magic Johnson lauded the Lakers for not trading him: “Wise choice by @Lakers not trading Pau Gasol until they see how the team plays when Steve Nash returns,” Johnson tweeted.
“All of us can co exist as a team. We just have to find a way to make it work,” Lakers center Dwight Howard said. “It’s still early in the season. We have a lot of games to play. We can’t lose focus and get off track of what our goal is. Whatever we have to do for our team to win a championship, we will. We just have to figure it out. It’s basketball. We know how to post up. We got to run to the block to get the ball to the post. We do that. But we have to initiate whatever we want.”
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