Pau Gasol won’t play tonight against Utah, will still start when he returns

EL SEGUNDO — Pau Gasol will miss his fourth consecutive game when the Lakers (9-11) host the Utah Jazz (11-10) tonight at Staples Center because of tendinitis in both of his knees.

But whenever the Lakers forward returns to the lineup, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni made it clear Gasol won’t come off the bench.

“I don’t think so. Not yet. That’s not what we need right now,” D’Antoni said. “I envision him doing well at what he does at the 4. We’ll see that. Everything is up. If we’re winning, then no. If we lose, then you always try something. I don’t want to say no, I’m not going to do that. But at the same time, I don’t have any intentions to do it. I don’t think we should do it.”

Gasol has averaged a career-low 12.6 points on 42 percent shooting and has sat out in late stretches under D’Antoni in favor of Antawn Jamison. During Gasol’s three-game absence, Jamison has averaged 13 points on 47.2 percent shooting in 30.7 minutes.

Yet, D’Antoni said he wants to give Gasol a chance for two reasons. He wants to see how he will bounce back once the tendinitis in both of his knees improve. D’Antoni also sounded eager to see how Gasol would pair with Steve Nash whenever he heals from a fractured left leg that has sidelined him for the past 18 games.

Both variables remain unpredictable.

D’Antoni said Gasol hasn’t yet been cleared to run and the team will evaluate his status for Tuesday’s game against Cleveland after they arrive there the previous evening. The Lakers have still listed Gasol as day-to-day. Gasol missed morning shootaround in favor of treatment, which he has said includes exercises on his gluteal and quadriceps muscles to ease the pressure on his tendons, icing and pain medication.

“In Cleveland, he’ll start moving a little bit,” D’Antoni said. “If the pain is less or very little, then he’ll play. But we haven’t gotten to that point.”

Meanwhile, Nash worked on various agility exercises during morning shootaround with strength & conditioning coach Tim DiFrancesco and also shot jumpers with assistant coaches Darvin Ham and Eddie Jordan. Nash has yet to be cleared to run. D’Antoni only said it was “possible” Nash would play in the Lakers’ upcoming four-game trip with stops in Cleveland (Tuesday), New York (Thursday), Washington (Friday) and Philadelphia (Sunday).

“He’s ramping it up and even sweating over there. He’s getting there. But he doesn’t want to take any steps backward. He wants to be 100 percent. I want him to be too. It’s too important for the team to get him where he feels great.”

D’Antoni also wants Gasol to feel great, aware that any demotion could result in a loss of confidence. Throughout the past two seasons, Gasol has fielded persistent trade rumors and a reduced role.

“I’m not going to mess with Pau,” D’Antoni said. “He’s too important to the team and he’s earned it. He’s too good of a player to even go there. That would be a last resort, desperate kind of thing.”

Instead, D’Antoni expressed confidence Gasol’s improved health and Nash’s presence will contribute in an uptick in performance.

“There’s a lot of stuff that he takes care of and can do. We just have to get him comfortable in that role. Nash will be a big part of it. Him being well will be a big part of it,” D’Antoni said. “I hope that’s it. But we’re not playing well as a team. There are times we’re not exploiting him in what he’s doing. It’s a little bit out of kilter. Until we get it straightened and balanced, I can’t make a decision. It’s a little bit of a team situation.”

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