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Lakers' Pau Gasol back on the court, getting 'close' to return

ORLANDO, Fla. -- With all eyes on Dwight Howard Tuesday at Amway Center, a key figure who could soon rejoin the resurgent Lakers almost escaped scrutiny. Pau Gasol was on the floor taking jumpers after the Lakers' shootaround, and coach Mike D'Antoni said he could be back in the lineup soon.

"He's starting to run now and he feels pretty good," D'Antoni said before the Lakers played the Magic in Howard's first game in Orlando since he was traded in July. "It's six weeks next Tuesday, so it was six-to-eight, so it's close."

Gasol hasn't played since Feb. 5 at Brooklyn, after which he was diagnosed with a torn plantar fascia in his right foot. Tuesday marked his first extensive basketball activity since the injury, and if he suffers no setbacks Wednesday, he could increase his workouts by Thursday.

The Lakers have won eight of 10 to climb above .500 for the first time since November and into the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference. Getting Gasol back as soon as next week would be as much of a challenge as it is a blessing. Before he went down, the Lakers were struggling to find a way to use him in D'Antoni's offense, and he'd been relegated to a bench role that he said he would not accept beyond this season.

"We're playing a lot better than we were," D'Antoni said. "We've still got to get Pau back and get him integrated and get to that top tier. We're still not quite there. We've got to smooth some things out."

One answer the Lakers have found has been closing out games with Kobe Bryant and Howard running pick-and-rolls and Steve Nash serving as a release valve off the ball -- basically, the opposite roles for Bryant and Nash than what was expected when D'Antoni took over five games into the season.

"I knew Kobe was good in the pick-and-roll, but you've got the MVP twice over there, one of the best pick-and-roll guys in the league," D'Antoni said. "But Steve's a great shooter and we can go to that, get him off the ball some. It'll go back and forth, but it's worked out well so far."

Once Gasol returns, D'Antoni said the Bryant-Nash pick-and-rolls will be harder to accommodate due to spacing issues.

"But he gives us so much else -- he's a great passer and different things -- so we'll just have to figure the spacing out," D'Antoni said.

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