By Ben Golliver
Lakers forward Pau Gasol will return to the starting lineup Tuesday night against the Bobcats at the Staples Center after missing the last eight games with tendinitis in his knees. Coach Mike D'Antoni informed reporters of Gasol's return on Tuesday morning and Gasol said he will play with "no restrictions" on his minutes, ESPNLA.com reports.
Gasol, 32, has found himself scrutinized and back in the middle of trade rumors after a slow start to the season. The Spanish big man is averaging a career-low 12.6 points and 8.8 rebounds while shooting a career-low 42 percent from the field. A significantly larger percentage of his shots are coming from the perimeter this season and he's yet to find the chemistry with new center Dwight Howard.
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant suggested earlier this month that it was time for Gasol to find his "big boy pants," and many observers see Gasol's struggles as a key factor in the Lakers' 11-14 start. It was clear that his knees were bothersome, as he struggled to get lift on his shots around the basket and he tended to labor even more than usual getting up and down the court. Given D'Antoni's preference for an up-tempo style, the Lakers have a lot riding on Gasol being fully healthy, fit and active.
With Gasol in the lineup this season, the Lakers are 8-9, scoring 100.7 points and conceding 96.9 points on average. The Lakers were 3-5 and endured their first four-game losing streak of the season without Gasol, scoring 105 points but conceding 104.4 points on average. In Gasol's absence, D'Antoni was forced to start Antawn Jamison or Devin Ebanks, making this already thin bench even more precarious. Lakers fans hope that Gasol's return is the beginning of a turnaround during what's been a horribly disappointing start to the season. Reports this week also indicated that starting point guard Steve Nash could return as soon as Saturday's game against theWarriors.