PHOENIX – After overcoming a respiratory illness that kept him out for one game and cooped up in his hotel room, Pau Gasol will start tonight when the Lakers (13-14) visit the Phoenix Suns (16-10) tonight at U.S. Airways Center.
The Lakers will also make what will mark their 13th different lineup combination of the season. Shawne Williams will start at power forward over Jordan Hill, while fielding Xavier Henry (point guard), Jodie Meeks (shooting guard), Wesley Johnson (small forward) and Gasol (center). D’Antoni also suggested that Hill and Chris Kaman will see what he called “limited” minutes off the bench.
“The next couple of games, the teams will be small,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We want to make sure we’re able to match up.”
The Lakers sure could use Gasol’s playmaking abilities.
He had posted a season-high 21 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists in the Lakers’ win Friday over Minnesota. Gasol, who didn’t speak to reporter after taking part in the team’s Monday morning shoot-around, had been the only Lakers player to have started every game this season. He has averaged 15 points, 9.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game.
The Lakers have a lingering absence at point guard, including Steve Nash (back), Steve Blake (right elbow) and Jordan Farmar (left hamstring). The Lakers also are still without Kobe Bryant, who will the Lakers say will return in six weeks after fracturing his left knee.
Still, D’Antoni sounded unsure how much, if any, he will play Kendall Marshall, whose debut in the Lakers’ loss Saturday to Golden State entailed a missed 3-pointer and four turnovers in six minutes.
“It’s hard for anybody to come in and run your stuff,” D’Antoni said. “We’ll see tonight. I don’t know. I’ll go by game feel.”
The Lakers will match up against a speedy backcourt in former Clippers point guard Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic, both whom combined for 49 points against the Lakers two weeks ago. To make matters worse, the Lakers have also lost four consecutive games in Phoenix.
So much talk about the Suns tanking this season for draft picks.
“I don’t think anybody gave them two cents,” D’Antoni said. “But after watching them play, you’re not surprised watching them. Jeff [Horancek] does an unbelievable job with his players and they play. They come at you, spread the floor and run. It’s exciting.”
D’Antoni offered plenty of excitement for the Suns (2003-08), where he guided them to two Western Conference finals appearances under his fast-paced offense famously dubbed “Seven Seconds or Less.” D’Antoni left though to take the New York Knicks’ head-coaching job in 2008 before being forced to resign in 2012.
“They’re the best. Phoenix is a great city, no doubt about it,” D’Antoni said. “There’s a lot of great cities. But when you get a group of guys and people that we have, that’s why it’s magic. It’s a group of guys, ownership and everyone pulling in the same direction. That’s what was fun.”
Does D’Antoni receive a warm reception in Phoenix?
“It’s hot in here,” D’Antoni said. “That’s why I get a warm reception.”
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