Five things to watch surrounding Pau Gasol’s pending return

The Lakers' Pau Gasol drives on the Wizards' Marcin Gortat, Friday, March 21, 2014, at Staples Center. (Photo by Michael Owen Baker/L.A. Daily News)

The Lakers’ Pau Gasol drives on the Wizards’ Marcin Gortat, Friday, March 21, 2014, at Staples Center. (Photo by Michael Owen Baker/L.A. Daily News)

1. Will Pau Gasol remain asymptomatic? His return tonight when the Lakers (25-48) host the Portland Trail Blazers (48-27) at Staples Center hinges on how his body feels a day after participating in Monday’s practice. So if there’s any lingering symptoms ranging from dizziness, cold sweats and fatigue, Gasol likely will not play. But should he take the court, will Gasol still avoid any lingering affects? After all, Gasol reported feeling these symptoms during the Lakers’ win last week against Orlando for no apparent reasons. Since then, Gasol reported doctors have not found the root cause of his illness. Either way, Gasol will exercise plenty of caution whenever he steps on the court, whether it’s tonight or later in the week.

2. How will his energy look? The Lakers missed Gasol’s presence in the past four games for obvious reasons. He is the team’s best post player and a willing passer. But Gasol’s success this season has largely predicated on his health. Consider the breakdowns in his scoring averages through every month this season: November (14.9 points), December (15.5 points), January (20.8 points), February (18 points) and March (19.3 points). His slow start partly correlated with coming into training camp rusty stemmed from an offseason procedure on both of his knees. He then had a variety of ailments, including an upper respiratory infection, foot issues and a strained right groin.

3. Does Mike D’Antoni give in toward playing Gasol and Chris Kaman together?
Even with Kaman posting 28 points in the Lakers’ win Sunday over Phoenix, D’Antoni remains reluctant to play him alongside Gasol for a variety of reasons. D’Antoni believes the offensive versatility both players possess overlap with each other. He continuously cites the need to have a stretch forward (Ryan Kelly) and better defenders (Robert Sacre, Jordan Hill). D’Antoni also conceded he feels more inclined to play Sacre and Kelly because they are developing players expecting to have long-term futures with the Lakers. But if the goal is to win as many of the nine remaining games possible, it would be inexplicable not to play Kaman. D’Antoni often says he will play whoever has the hot hand and will reward players who produce. In this case, it’s a no brainer. Kaman should have the nod until at least his play drops off.

4. Will Gasol sharpen up on defense?
One thing the Lakers did not miss during Gasol’s absence was his defense. The Lakers are not going to be mistaken for a lockdown defensive team, conceding a season-worst 143 points last week to Minnesota and 108 points to the NBA’s worst team in the Milwaukee Bucks. But the Lakers posted decent defensive performances against Phoenix and New York this past week because of better consistency on offering rim protection and rotating quicker. For much of the season, Gasol has failed to provide those qualities for a number of reasons. He’s not the quickest or most athletic player. Gasol also shows frustration when the Lakers do not move the ball and rotate quickly enough. That often then leads towards a downward spiral.

5. How much will the remaining games affect his free agency?
Has Gasol expended all nine of his lives with the Lakers? Or will he find a way, as he has done so many times before, to stay here despite all the signs suggesting otherwise? That remains to be seen considering the uncertainty of Mike D’Antoni’s future, how the Lakers build back their roster and to what degree Gasol will take a hometown discount from his $19.3 million. But if Gasol shows he can play again at an elite level after overcoming his latest ailment, he should have a much better outlook heading into free agency.


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