MINNEAPOLIS – Ricky Rubio got his wish: Pau Gasol has been reinserted into the Lakers’ starting lineup for Friday’s game against the Timberwolves, replacing Dwight Howard, who’s out with the same right shoulder injury that has troubled him for much of the season.
Just 24 hours after the Timberwolves point guard, who considers the Lakers big man a close friend, spoke out about the Lakers’ misuse of Gasol, the four-time All-Star was put back into the starting lineup for the first time since Jan. 20. Gasol finished his last game as a starter, a 108-103 Lakers loss in Toronto, with 25 points and five rebounds. In seven games off the bench this season, he has averaged 13.1 points on 53.0 percent shooting, better than his scoring and shooting averages when in the starting five, but both his rebounding (6.7 per game from the bench, 8.3 when starting) and assists (3.1, 3.8) have suffered.
Howard had been listed as day-to-day after leaving the Lakers’ loss in Phoenix in the fourth quarter on Wednesday with the torn labrum in his right shoulder that’s caused him to miss three games this season. Coach Mike D’Antoni said Friday he isn’t certain how long the center will be out but that Howard said his shoulder felt similar to the last time he aggravated it, when he missed three games over the course of four days.
D’Antoni also said that Howard will be reexamined “every hour, almost, every day” and will be getting treatment so as to return as soon as possible. The team won’t shut down Howard for any period of time, the coach added.
“It’ll always be there,” D’Antoni said. “Even if we shut him down for two months, it’s still going to be there. Next time he gets hit, it’s still going to hurt him. It’s a pain thing.”
D’Antoni also played down any reports of conflict between himself and Gasol, acknowledging that he knows Gasol wants to start and that he understands that desire. D’Antoni said he and Gasol hung out recently, and that it’s not a question of personalities clashing.
“I’ve just kind of got to coach the team the way I think is better,” D’Antoni said. “It’s not a personality conflict. It’s not a dance contest. I like him. My dance card’s open.
“Sometimes (Gasol and Howard) can’t coexist. It’s just numbers, just because the way the other team’s playing. It has nothing to do with (Gasol).”
For his part, Gasol downplayed his excitement about rejoining the starting five. He’s tried to take his situation, which has been in flux all season, for what it is, he said, and he attempts to not make a big deal out of his ever-changing status.
“I try not to let it affect my mind and my game and try to bring the same effort and same aggressiveness whether it’s one way or another,” Gasol said.
Without Howard this season, the Lakers are 0-3, and the three games he missed coincided with the tail end of the team’s season-high six-game losing streak. The team has gone 12-14 with Gasol in the starting five.