|The Lakers will move forward and try to get back into the playoff hunt with Gasol on the shelf for a while. (Getty)|
Pau Gasol was worried about a pop he felt in his right foot Tuesday night, and for good reason. The Lakers' forward is expected to miss at least six weeks with a partial tear of his plantar fascia and may need surgery, a league source told CBSSports.com.
One option for Gasol is rehab, which would involve an absence of 6-8 weeks. Surgery would result in Gasol missing 10-12 weeks, but would provide a better chance of a full recovery, the source said.
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Gasol, who said he felt a "pop" in the foot Tuesday night when he attempted to contest a shot at the rim by the Nets' Brook Lopez, had an MRI Wednesday in Boston, where the Lakers play the Celtics on Thursday night.
The Lakers confirmed in a statement that Gasol has a torn plantar fascia, the muscles on the bottom of the foot. Gasol will fly to Los Angeles on Thursday to be examined by team doctor Steve Lombardo and foot specialist Kenneth Jung, the team said. Gasol also intends to seek an additional medical opinion before deciding on a course of treatment.
Unless there is a substantial difference in opinion regarding treatment options and Gasol's timetable, the injury is a major blow to the Lakers' playoff hopes and also will bring any trade discussion involving Gasol between now and the Feb. 21 deadline to a screeching halt. Though Gasol has been coming off the bench for coach Mike D'Antoni, his strong play lately has helped lift the Lakers to their strongest stretch of the season with six wins in seven games.
"I'm hoping to recover asap so I can be back with the team and keep fighting until the end of the season," Gasol tweeted Wednesday night.
With Dwight Howard missing the past three games after re-aggravating his injured right shoulder Jan. 30 at Phoenix, Gasol has been back in the starting lineup. If Howard returns Thursday night against Boston, Antawn Jamison would be the first frontcourt player off Mike D'Antoni's bench, with Earl Clark continuing to start alongside Howard at power forward.
If Howard remains out, the Lakers' lineup will go from small to invisible, with Clark likely shifting to center and Jamison starting at the four. Clark, whose strong play has been one of the bright spots for the Lakers in this disappointing season, defended the Nets' Lopez in the fourth quarter Tuesday night after Gasol was injured.
Gasol left Barclays Center on crutches after a 92-83 victory over the Nets and expressed his concern about the possibility of a strain or tear. Kobe Bryant said, "I'm very, very concerned about it, to say the least. ... We can't afford to lose Pau for a long stretch. We need to get him back.
"I don't think his spirits are going to sag," Bryant said. "He and I talk quite a bit. He's determined. He's going to figure this thing out, what's going on with his foot, with his fascia, and he's going to see what he can do. He's not going to be deterred."
Gasol, upset with being relegated to a bench role in D'Antoni's offensive system, already has made it clear that while he won't request a trade before the Feb. 21 deadline, he will not accept a reserve role beyond this season.
Thus, if Gasol chooses the surgical option and the 10-12 week recovery, it's worth pondering whether Tuesday night winds up being his final game as a Laker.
Gasol, 32, has been hampered by plantar fasciitis in his right foot since Christmas. He tweaked the injury Jan. 30 at Phoenix, where he was worked on by trainers for an extended period after a 92-86 loss.
He tweaked the injury again in the first half Tuesday night, and the muscles finally let go and popped in the fourth quarter when Gasol jumped to attempt to block Lopez's shot.
"It felt kind of OK a little bit putting my weight on it without walking or running," Gasol said. "But once I started running, I was limping, I was really sore and even if I tried, I just couldn't go."