Mike D’Antoni: Pau Gasol’s latest setback on foot could delay return

Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said the additional pain Gasol felt in his right foot following a two-on-two game Saturday could “jeopardize” his planned return Monday when the Lakers visit the Phoenix Suns.

“That could be in jeopardy,” D’Antoni said. “But he’s close.”

Lakers forward Pau Gasol saw foot specialist Kenneth Jung this morning, but details weren’t immediately available on his visit. Gasol experienced additional pain in his foot after playing a game of two-on-two Saturday at the Lakers’ practice facility.

Gasol will miss his 32nd game on Sunday this season, including 19 because of his latest foot injury. Gasol also missed eight games because of tendinitis in his knees and five because of a concussion.

Though Gasol’s return remains uncertain, D’Antoni reiterated his stance that he will start once his conditioning returns to normal levels. Gasol had played the last six games before his injury while Earl Clark started at power forward, with D’Antoni arguing Jan. 22 that “we got to go small.”

Why did D’Antoni’s sentiments change?

“I think Pau went up to another level with his play,” D’Antoni said. “That changed. As you get to the playoffs, experience and being able to perform under certain conditions is a big factor. And he’s more comfortable starting. There’s a lot of things you have to think about. We’ll look at it. As soon as he gets healthy enough, that’s where we’ll go.”

Gasol has averaged a career-low 13.4 points on 45.3 percent shooting. His numbers are fairly similar as both a starter (13.4 points) and a reserve (13.1 points), but Gasol boasts a stronger shooting percentage as a bench player (53 percent) than a starter (43.8 percent). Gasol’s numbers also bode similar despite the playing time discrepancy as a starter (34.5 minutes) and reserve (28.7). Part of that reflects the reality that Gasol is featured more inside as the Lakers’ backup center than he is sharing the floor with Dwight Howard.

Howard dismissed any notion that he and Gasol struggled to co-exist, a contention D’Antoni often expressed when explaining
Gasol’s bench role.

“Pau played with [Andrew Bynum] for years,” Howard said. “He’s accustomed to it. For myself, I thought it was great having me and Pau on the floor together. It makes it tough for teams to rebound and tough for teams to attack the basket and we’re getting in better shape. That makes everything a lot easier for our guards and come playoff time, it will make it easy for Kobe [Bryant] to have two guys down there that will draw a lot of attention.”

D’Antoni still maintains he will keep the minutes “pretty similar” for Clark and Antawn Jamison despite the lineup switch, while trimming Metta World Peace’s minutes at backup center. That’s because D’Antoni plans to feature Howard and Gasol playing together for only 16-20 minutes together. Former Lakers coach Phil Jackson often adopted that tactic with Bynum and Gasol, while using Lamar Odom as a stretch forward.

“Our style is to go out there and play as hard as we can and play with a lot of energy,” Howard said. “That’s it. There’s no set style that Mike has where we come out and do a certain thing. We just make our own reads. If I’m ahead of the ball or Pau is ahead of the ball, we go to the rm. If I rebound, then I go screen with Steve and then roll to the rim. We just try to simplify things. With Pau coming back, it will make some of those plays that we run easier because Pau is seven feet and can shoot the ball and make those passes over the top. It will be good for him to coming back.”

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Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at mark.medina@dailynews.com

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