After missing five games in the past week because of a concussion, Pau Gasol says he “feels better” and will play tonight when the Lakers (17-21) host the Miami Heat (25-12) tonight at Staples Center.
But it won’t be in a role he’s accustomed to doing. For the first time since his rookie season in the 2001-02 campaign, Gasol will come off the bench.
The Lakers say Gasol, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni and trainer Gary Vitti discussed the role with D’Antoni ultimately deciding. He said the role mostly hinges on Gasol’s conditioning and not practicing for the past 10 days since nursing a concussion.
“We’re going to watch him tonight,” D’Antoni said. “He’s going to be limited in what he does. Then ease him back in.”
Both Gasol and D’Antoni say that could happen as early as Sunday when the Lakers visit the Toronto Raptors.
“It kind of makes sense,” said Gasol, who visited with neurologist Dr. Vern Williams Thursday in what marked his seventh visit since having the concussion. “First game to come off the bench and ease back into it with this game. They weren’t expecting me to play tonight. Maybe it would be better basketball wise to get conditioning drills and workouts and playing more before I get back so I could get better. But I want to play and be out there.”
For now, Lakers forward Earl Clark will make his fourth consecutive start at power forward and match up with Miami’s Chris Bosh. What a way for Clark to celebrate his 25th birthday, a day after missing practice because of a fever.
“I won’t miss out on this opportunity,” said Clark, who averaged 12.75 points and 10.25 rebounds per game in the past four games. “I’ll be ready to play. I’m just happy I woke up this morning … It’s great. I couldn’t ask for anything else. Hopefully we get a win. It’s a cool feeling.”
It remains to be seen how Gasol will feel in his new role after averaging a career-low 12.6 points on 41.6 percent shooting and 8.4 rebounds.
“It will depend on if I’m doing great, they’ll keep me out there,” Gasol said, somewhat jokingly. “If I miss two shots, I’m back with the guys.”
Gasol participated in three-on-three drills Wednesday, but lacks conditioning. He says he healed from the plantar fasciitis in his right foot during his absence, but wonders about his rhythm. He’s only come off the bench in three other games during his rookie season with the Memphis Grizzlies, but could benefit from having a larger role as a reserve.
Despite their ineffectiveness with each other, Gasol hardly sounded thrilled with the idea of not playing together with Dwight Howard in hopes that would help floor spacing.
“I’m fine mixing it up,” Gasol said. “I think our effectiveness shouldn’t be determined on whether we’re both on the floor. I think we should be more effective when we’re both on the floor. But this is a guard oriented offense and system. Most of the time one big or two bigs are not getting the best out of it.”