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Gasol plans to test injured ankle tonight

Times Staff Writer

The Lakers received their most upbeat medical report in weeks after practice on Tuesday: Pau Gasol is expected to play tonight when the Lakers play host to the Portland Trail Blazers, after missing nine games because of a sprained left ankle.

Gasol underwent a full practice Tuesday, afterward labeling his ankle a little sore but showing progress.

His ankle is not fully healed but good enough to give it a go tonight.

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“That’s the main question, right?” Gasol said. “If nothing crazy happens and the ankle responds well to the work today, I think it’s a pretty good guess that I’ll be out there.”

Gasol is averaging 18.9 points and 8.5 rebounds. He has played 19 games at center for the Lakers, filling in for injured Andrew Bynum, since being acquired in a Feb. 1 trade. The Lakers are 15-4 with Gasol in the lineup, and were 5-4 in his absence as Ronny Turiaf and DJ Mbenga played center and the team slipped a bit in a tight Western Conference race.

Kobe Bryant said of Gasol: “Can’t wait to work him back in the mix and get him out on the floor.”

Gasol will also help on the defensive end, Bryant said.

“It gives us more length,” Bryant said. “We’d like to have longer players in there. Ronny and DJ have been doing a good job, but we’d like to have some more length in there with Pau and when Drew gets back.”

It will take a bit of time, Gasol said, to regain his fluidity on the court, but “hopefully the quality of the team will overcome those little adjustments.”

If Gasol returns tonight, it will be as a starter, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said, although he may be used for only one rotation if his ankle shows signs of discomfort.

“He’ll probably have swelling for the next six weeks,” Jackson said. “Anybody who’s had a severely sprained ankle knows that it just goes on and on. Eventually it subsides, but it’s still going to be an issue for a while.”

That’s one half of their sidelined frontcourt tandem.

The other half, Bynum, ran on the court for the first time since injuring his left knee in January, but he did not practice with the team. He is up to performing slide drills and step hooks, Jackson said

No specific return date has been made, although the team hopes to have Bynum back shortly before the playoffs.

“He did more work today than he’s done up to this point,” Jackson said. “We just push him to a point where he’s really active and see how he reacts to it. If he reacts to it, then we back him down a step and then proceed again after a day’s rest or a day’s less work.”

Bynum will soon resume traveling with the team -- to go over new plays, get into a basketball schedule rhythm and for other practical purposes. “So he can hang out a little bit with his teammates and remember their names,” Jackson joked.

And what about working in so many players who are trying to get healthy -- Gasol and Bynum, plus Chris Mihm and Trevor Ariza -- so close to the playoffs?

“It’s not easy,” Jackson said. “Sometimes it can screw up a team. Sometimes teams can be rejuvenated by it.”

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Three years later, the jeers turned to cheers for Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak.

Kupchak received sincere applause at the end of a question-and-answer session with about 1,000 season-ticket holders Tuesday night at the team’s annual “town-hall meeting” at Staples Center.

Some fans even gave him a standing ovation.

At the town-hall meeting in April 2005, a season-ticket holder demanded Kupchak’s resignation as the Lakers were on the way to missing the playoffs for only the fifth time in franchise history.

Kupchak, credited with drafting Bynum and acquiring Gasol, said he did not feel vindicated by the Lakers’ turnaround, perhaps preserving such an emotion until they show progress in the postseason.

“I have an owner who has confidence and trust in me and the people I work with,” Kupchak said simply.

Questions at the event were submitted ahead of time by season-ticket holders, screened by Lakers officials and answered by Kupchak for about an hour and 10 minutes Tuesday.

Kupchak said the Lakers hoped to have Bynum back “with a game or two to go” in the regular season, and he also expressed confidence in the team even before Gasol was acquired.

“Before we got Pau, I thought we could play with anyone,” he said.

Kupchak also said the team would like to re-sign restricted free agents Sasha Vujacic and Ronny Turiaf, although he hedged somewhat when asked if Lamar Odom would receive a contract extension this summer. Odom, 28, has one more season and $14.1 million left on his contract.

“We want to see how we perform in the playoffs, what the market is like this summer, and most important, how successful our team will be in the playoffs,” Kupchak said.

TONIGHT vs. Portland, 7:30, FSN West

Site -- Staples Center.

Radio -- 570; 1330.

Records -- Lakers 50-24; Trail Blazers 38-36.

Record vs. Trail Blazers -- 1-1.

Update -- All-Star guard Brandon Roy will not play for Portland tonight because of a strained groin muscle and bruised right hip.

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Times staff writer Mike Bresnahan contributed to this report.

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jonathan.abrams@latimes.com


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