Kobe, Pau Gasol in starting lineup
SportsNation: Bryant, Gasol Back
The Lakers will have their full starting lineup for the first time in a while tonight. Are they a title team when everyone is healthy?
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni had toyed with the idea of bringing Gasol off the bench as he rounds himself back into shape after being out since Feb. 5 with a torn plantar fascia in his right foot but said after shootaround Friday that the four-time All-Star would play with the first unit.
"The reason being he'll warm up. He feels better when he gets warmed up and gets going instead of sitting over there for about 10-20 minutes and then playing," D'Antoni said. "He's more comfortable that way, and that's what we're going to end up anyway, so we might as well go ahead."
D'Antoni said Gasol would be limited as he gets his "wind and legs" back but said there would be no restrictions on Bryant as he returns to the lineup after missing the last two games with a severely sprained left ankle.
Tweeted Bryant after shootaround Friday: "Ankle was a lil sore from practice yesterday but should be good to go tonight #mambaface."
Gasol has missed the Lakers' last 20 games with his right foot injury, and the team went 13-7 without him. Gasol has been out a total of 33 games this season, also missing five games with knee tendinitis and eight games because of a concussion. It's the most time the 12-year veteran has missed in a season in his career, eclipsing the 26 games in 2004-05 when he played for the Memphis Grizzlies.
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The return of Gasol and Bryant, coupled with Steve Blake recovering from the flu, means that Friday's matchup with the Wizards will be just the third game all season the Lakers' core group of those three players along with Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Metta World Peace have been healthy enough to suit up and play together.
"It's good to have [Gasol] back," said Howard after shootaround. "When he was out, it was tough for guys like Earl [Clark] and Antawn [Jamison] to really defend in the paint because they're usually good perimeter defenders. So having another guy back there is going to be good for the team. Now those guys get to go back to their normal positions and do what they do best.
"It's going to be great. I'm looking forward to it. I know Pau is trying to get into better shape. So, especially on the defensive end, I got to do a really good job of helping him out until he gets his legs back, and we'll go from there."
With 13 games remaining in the regular season, the Lakers (36-33) are 1½ games up on the Utah Jazz for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff berth. They are 1½ games back of seventh-place Houston and 2½ games back of sixth-place Golden State.