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Thursday, March 21, 2013
Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant practice

By Ramona Shelburne
ESPNLosAngeles.com

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- For just the third game this season, the Los Angeles Lakers will look pretty much as they were intended to look in August, when visions of becoming a superteam danced in their heads.

Pau Gasol (foot) and Kobe Bryant (ankle, flu) both went through an intense practice Thursday and are expected to play when the Lakers host the Washington Wizards on Friday evening at Staples Center.

It will be just the third game all season the Lakers core group of Bryant, Gasol, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Metta World Peace and Steve Blake have been healthy enough to suit up and play together.

"I'm looking forward to it," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said. "That's the lineup. If we're going to do any damage, that's what has to happen.

"We have a month to get better and, in the meantime, win games. We put ourselves in this position, so we gotta do it."

The Lakers (36-33) are 1 games up on the Utah Jazz for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff berth. They remain 1 games back of seventh-place Houston and 2 games back of sixth-place Golden State.

D'Antoni said he hadn't decided yet whether to start Gasol on Friday, but he will eventually, so it doesn't matter much whether that happens against the Wizards.

Gasol has been out since Feb. 5 with torn plantar fascia in his foot. He was playing his best basketball of the season when he went down with the injury, but the Lakers still had yet to consistently incorporate the 7-foot Spaniard with Howard.

In the time he's been out, Gasol said he has been watching closely, looking for answers to solve the puzzle that seemingly has plagued the Lakers all season.

"We can still be a special team," he said. "It's going to be difficult, and it's going to take a special mindset of confidence, aggressiveness, discipline and consistency.

"We have to be a unit. We have to put aside our individual wishes. And we have to be extremely solid defensively.

"Once I get back into a better rhythm and get in better shape and start being more effective out there, I'll try to do the right thing, make the extra pass and create a good flow out there. But I don't want to get away from the other attributes that I do have and I think will be very helpful to our team. It's all a fine line. It's all a balance and a challenge with our team and everybody's role."

The Lakers have 13 games remaining before the start of the postseason. If they make the playoffs, they will not have home-court advantage and likely will not be favored.

Still, Gasol thinks there may be time to get things right after all. And if they don't, there almost will certainly be consequences for a team that began the season with such high expectations.

"Making the playoffs is the main thing, but if we make the playoffs and we get knocked out in the first round, it's worthless and we failed," he said. "We're going to get smashed on all the angles, let's be truthful.

"So we have to prepare ourselves mentally and physically to be successful in the playoffs, whoever we face. I think these 13 games are very meaningful to get ourselves ready. Let's see how we do. I'm expecting a positive outcome."