OAKLAND — For a painfully long six weeks, the Lakers missed Pau Gasol’s versatility, length and post presence.
But two games since his return from a torn plantar fascia in his right foot that sidelined him for 20 games, another issue has emerged.
How quickly can Gasol catch up on his conditioning without sacrificing both his body and the Lakers’ playoff fortunes?
“It’s going to take a couple of weeks for him to get ready,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said.
Whether a couple weeks means only two or beyond, the Lakers have a month before the seasons ends. The Lakers (36-35) have a one-game lead over the Utah Jazz (35-36) for the eighth playoff spot with only 11 games remaining, making their postseason aspirations likely uncertain leading into the last week of the season.
Equally uncertain remains how many games Gasol believes it will take for his conditioning to round into form. Regardless, the Lakers need it. Gasol has scored a combined 11 points on 5 of 18 shooting and 16 rebounds in the Lakers’ past two losses.
“I wish it were that simple to say it takes five games or five practices,” Gasol said. “It depends. I’ll try to push myself to be better next game. Hopefully I’ll stay out there a little longer and be a bigger factor.”
So far, Gasol played only 20 minutes in the Lakers’ 103-100 loss Friday to the Washington Wizards and 23 minutes in the Lakers’ 109-103 loss Monday to the Golden State Warriors. Against Washington, he sat out of the final 8:50 of the game. Against Golden State, Gasol sat out fourth quarter entirely.
“Everything is relative and debatable,” Gasol said. “Right now, I’m trying to get better. I have to do better. Hopefully that will help make it easy on being out there.”
That, of course, determines on one thing.
“He has to get his legs back,” Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said. “He’s still out there with Bambi legs a little bit. After having missing so much time, it’s hard being able to get up and down the floor.”
Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni openly lamented, “we’re back to being slow and we’re paying for it,” a clear reference to Gasol’s lack of speed. But D’Antoni suggested he will further tinker with his offense to ensure a slower pace instead of forcing players, such as Gasol, to pursue a speed they can’t reach.
“With Pau, we have to find a way to get him comfortable,” Lakers forward Antawn Jamison said. “It’s one thing to be out. But your timing is off and everything. With him, we just have to be positive with him, keep him upbeat and let him know he’s a part of this as well.”
It remains to be seen, though, whether the Lakers can absorb those growing pains. So far, they haven’t.
“The more I can be out there, the better for my conditioning,” Gasol said. “I can fight through fatigue and increase it every game.”
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