D'Antoni balks at questions about Gasol's starting status

LOS ANGELES -- Before the question had even fully left the reporter's mouth, Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni sought to shut it down.

"We're not going there," D'Antoni said. "We're not going there. We're not going there. We don't need to go there yet, do we? We can have that uproar later on. OK?"

The uproar he was referring to was the potential backlash that could occur when Pau Gasol returns from the plantar fascia injury in his right foot and D'Antoni chooses to bring the four-time All-Star off the bench.

Gasol graduated from elliptical machine workouts to running on the "AlterG" anti-gravity treadmill with 75 percent of his body weight Thursday. The Lakers' plan is to have Gasol gradually add weight day by day to the point where Gasol is able to do on-court running next week when he accompanies the team on their three-game trip.

Whether Gasol starts or not, D'Antoni said it would be unlikely the Lakers' forward would play during the trip to Orlando, Atlanta and Indiana.

"I don't think so," D'Antoni said. "I don't think that's the plan. Now, if trainers tell me he's ready to go, but I don't think we're there yet."

Gasol was originally estimated to be sidelined 6-8 weeks.

Tuesday marked the fourth week that Gasol has been out since injuring his foot against Brooklyn. The Lakers have gone 8-5 in the 13 games without Gasol, heading into Friday's game against the Raptors.

If Gasol returns on the early end of that timeline, he could be back the week of March 18 at Phoenix or at home against Washington.

D'Antoni says he is already thinking about the prospect of having the two-time champion back at his disposal.

"You think about it every day," D'Antoni said. "That's what coaches do.

"In my mind [there is a plan], but it never works out, so we'll see how that goes. You can't predict anything. When he comes back, obviously he'll be a big part of what we do and getting back to the level that he was at when he got hurt. If he does that, he's going to help a heck of a lot."

D'Antoni told reporters earlier in the season that he believed the team performed better with Gasol backing up Dwight Howard at center than putting the two on the floor together, and Earl Clark has become the regular starter at power forward since Gasol went out.

Gasol is averaging 13.4 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 34.7 minutes per game overall this season. In seven games coming off the bench, Gasol is averaging 13.1 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists in 28.7 minutes per game.

Gasol is shooting 53.0 percent from the field coming off the bench, compared to 43.8 percent from the field as a starter this season.