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Gasol finally feels bullish

Hamstring is 'great,' and Lakers' All-Star says he will make his season debut tonight against Chicago.

November 19, 2009|Broderick Turner

Pau Gasol finally will play for the Lakers tonight when they face the Chicago Bulls at Staples Center.

The right hamstring that kept Gasol out of the Lakers' first 11 regular-season games, the injury that hampered him for just over five weeks, healed enough to where he feels comfortable enough to play in a game.

"I think that I'll be able to go tomorrow," Gasol said after practice Wednesday. "It felt great today and I don't plan on any reason why it wouldn't feel the same way tomorrow."

Gasol has experienced a few close calls in returning to game action since he injured his hamstring in early October.

So Gasol was pressed harder, with the media looking for a definitive answer about his playing tonight.

"Everything felt great," Gasol said, "and I don't plan on any reason why I shouldn't play.

"I want to play. I've been wanting to play since day one. It just wasn't ready. The muscle wasn't healed and now I think it is healed. It felt great practicing and I've got to go out there and play."

Gasol has pushed himself in two practices this week, testing his hamstring to make sure it held up, after the sessions Monday and Wednesday.

Still, Gasol wasn't sure if his hamstring was 100% healthy.

But in his mind, he's at peace, having cleared enough mental hurdles to play in his first meaningful Lakers game since Game 5 of the NBA Finals on June 14 when the Lakers won the title in Orlando. Gasol did play in the Lakers' first two exhibition games in October before getting injured but was sidelined the final six exhibition games.

Gasol says he will let Lakers Coach Phil Jackson decide on how long he'll play.

"I'd be happy if he played 25 [minutes]," Jackson said.

Without Gasol, the Lakers missed an All-Star who averaged 18.9 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists last season. And there's more they missed.

"His IQ," Kobe Bryant said. "His passing ability and . . . the fact that he's a player that teams have to deal with. So that gives the opposition one more thing that they have to think about."

Jackson says Gasol will start at power forward, meaning that Lamar Odom will return to the bench.

That could help the struggling Lakers bench, as well as Odom, who has been inconsistent this season.

Odom is averaging 9.9 points and shooting only 42.9%. But he also averages 8.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists.

"We're hopeful that it'll help the whole team," Jackson said. "Not only the move back to the bench, but when [Odom] comes in off the bench that he'll be a spark for us in both the first and third quarters when he goes in."

If Gasol has one concern now, it's his conditioning.

He has had only "two real good practices" in the last 1 1/2 months, he said, and those were this week.

So exactly where does Gasol stand conditioning-wise?

"OK is being generous, I think," Gasol said. "But we'll find out [tonight]. Like I said, I don't think it'll take me long because it's never been an issue with me. But it's going to take a little bit of time, a couple of games."

If his stamina is a problem, Gasol said he'll rely on something else to get through tonight's game.

"I think with my basketball IQ, I can get away with a few things and just be effective," he said.


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