When the Lakers host the Washington Wizards on Friday, the team may finally have as close to a full roster as it has had all season.
After the Lakers practiced Wednesday, Coach Mike D’Antoni said he expects Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol to play against the Wizards.
“Hopefully Kobe and Pau will be back Friday — hopefully,” D’Antoni said.
Bryant severely sprained his left ankle on March 13 in a loss to the Atlanta Hawks. After playing only one quarter two days later against the Indiana Pacers, he didn’t return and sat out the next two games.
Bryant did not practice Wednesday, but D’Antoni expects him to practice Thursday.
Gasol has been sidelined since Feb. 5 and missed 20 games after suffering a tear in the bottom of his right foot. The Lakers have a 13-7 record in his absence.
Gasol practiced Wednesday.
“Let’s see how the foot feels from the workout today,” Gasol said about his expected return Friday. “I feel confident, but we don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves.”
D’Antoni intends to put Gasol back in the starting lineup, moving forward Earl Clark to the bench.
“I don’t know if it’s the first game or the third game, but [Gasol is] going to start. He’s going to finish games,” said the Lakers coach. “We can’t do anything in the playoffs without Pau being comfortable and 100%.”
D’Antoni benched Gasol before his foot injury for the quicker, more athletic Clark. Now the Lakers are returning to the taller lineup.
“It will change things up because you’re playing with two big guys instead of spreading the floor,” D’Antoni said. “They’ve never really played with Dwight [Howard] being 100% with Pau [in the lineup].”
The Lakers (36-33) have struggled this season with significant injuries to Steve Nash (leg), Steve Blake (abdominal strain), Howard (shoulder), Gasol and Bryant. Jordan Hill is still out after hip surgery.
D’Antoni hasn’t had all 14 players available since he was hired in November. He’s coached the combination of Bryant, Gasol, Howard, Nash and Blake for only a single game.
“It’d be nice if we had 60, 70 games together as a full unit, but we’ll take the fact that we do have a lot of health at this stage of the season,” Nash said.
Gasol said he learned a lot about the team while sidelined. “If our minds and our heart are really into it, we can be a heck of a team. We can beat anybody,” he said. “When we move the ball, we’re hard to beat.”
Meanwhile, D’Antoni should have a near-healthy roster Friday night.
“There’s a good 13 games to get everything worked out,” he said. “We’re looking forward to seeing what we have and if it’s good enough to cause some damage.”