Posted Feb 1, 2013 3:00 PM - Updated Feb 1, 2013 10:10 PM
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Dwight Howard is sidelined again with an ailing shoulder and disgruntled Pau Gasol is back in the Los Angeles Lakers' starting lineup, where he believes he should have been all along.
Howard was scratched from Friday night's game at Minnesota with a sore right shoulder, and he returned to Los Angeles to receive platelet-rich plasma treatments. This is the same injury that kept Howard out of three games in January.
The All-Star center planned to rejoin the team in Detroit on Sunday, but a timetable for his return was not immediately known.
"He'll play when there is no pain and that will be day-to-day, so we'll have to see," coach Mike D'Antoni said after the team's morning shootaround.
Howard's arrival from Orlando before the season was hailed as a return to championship contention for a Lakers team that was aging with Kobe Bryant and Gasol still the focal points. But Howard hasn't been his overpowering self for much the season. He was slowed early on while recovering from a back injury that happened last season and is now hampered by a shoulder injury that isn't going away anytime soon.
"It's always going to be there," D'Antoni said. "Even if we shut him down for two months, it's still going to be there. Once he gets hit, it's going to hurt. It's a pain thing."
He's still averaging 16.5 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks, but his level of intimidation and athleticism in the paint is not the same.
And the Lakers haven't been the same, either. They entered the game at 20-26, 10th in the Western Conference, and fresh off a loss to the lowly Suns.
The air of invincibility is not there, and Gasol's waning production is a big part of that. One of the most gifted post players of the last decade has been marginalized since D'Antoni replaced the fired Brown, a process that culminated with reduced to a reserve role for the first time in his career last month.
Usually measured and level-headed in his public remarks, Gasol has not hidden his disappointment with D'Antoni's decision.
"Mike's been trying to get his philosophy through us and try to get our team to do it," Gasol said Friday. "At the same time our personnel is a little different than probably what would fit best for that kind of system. It's a work in progress. We're all trying to get a feel for each other. We're all trying to figure things out. We're all trying to win. At the same time, it's been a struggle."
Gasol is averaging a career-low 12.8 points and is shooting a career-low 44.8 percent. He's been bothered by tendinitis in his knees, bursitis in his elbow and a concussion.
D'Antoni has been trying to diffuse the situation with his trademark tongue-in-cheek humor.
"I know he wants to start. 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."
D'Antoni has been using Earl Clark as the starting power forward alongside Howard. He said he likes how the Lakers start with a smaller lineup.
"I still consider myself one of the best out there," Gasol said. "It's a game that you can't be too self-centered and selfish. You have to put team first and have to make it work somehow. That's what we're trying to do. We're trying to make it work and I try not to be a negative influence at all."
Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio defended his fellow Spaniard on Thursday, joking that if the Lakers don't want him, the Wolves would take him. D'Antoni fired back, saying when Rubio coaches a team he can make those decisions. And Bryant took it a step further when asked about some of the criticism Wolves All-Star Kevin Love has received this year.
"You can send him our way," he said.
Asked what he can do to keep Gasol from letting the disappointment affect his play, D'Antoni cracked: "Pay him $19 million. Y'all figure it out. That should help. I think it's fine. He wants to play. I've got it. And he's going to play. He's always going to be in there in the end of big games."
For one night at least, it shouldn't be an issue. Gasol is in the starting lineup and Bryant said it is imperative the Lakers figure out a way to get him back to being a featured part of the offense.
"We haven't used him to his full potential, everybody knows that," Bryant said. "That's something we're trying to figure out and something we'll have to do a much better job at if we want to reach our full potential as a team. We have to use him more."
|Pacers vs. Heat: Game 2|
Roy Hibbert records 29 points and 10 rebounds, Paul George adds 22 points as the Pacers even the series with the Heat.
Nate Robinson joins GameTime to rundown some of the player's styles during the Playoffs.
|EJ's Neat-O Stat|
Lance Fresh talks about NBA fashion and the Inside guys sport their new wooden bow ties compliments of Two Guys Bow Ties.
|Playoff Minimovie - Week 5: West|
An all-access look at how San Antonio took a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals.
|Playoff Minimovie - Week 5: East|
An all-access look at the conclusion of the Knicks-Pacers Semifinal and the Game 1 thriller between the Heat and Pacers.