Pau Gasol will start upon return

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol missed his fourth straight game because of knee tendinitis Sunday against the Utah Jazz, but whenever he is able to return he won't be coming off the bench.

"Not yet, that's not what we need to be doing right now," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said of the possibility of using Gasol in a sixth man role. "We need to find him and Steve (Nash) in there together and look at it and make a good assessment. I envision him being really good at what he does at the four, so I don't see that."

Even though part of the motivation of keeping Gasol in the starting lineup is to see how he performs alongside Nash, D'Antoni said that Gasol will retain his starting spot even if he returns to the lineup before Nash is back.

"I'm not going to mess with Pau," D'Antoni said. "He's too important to the team and he's earned it and he's too good of a player to even go there. That would be a last resort kind of desperate (move)."

Gasol did not participate in shootaround Sunday. He has spent his time out of the lineup strengthening his gluteal and quadriceps muscles to alleviate the pressure on the patellar tendons in his knees as well as going through ice treatment and taking pain medication. Gasol has worked out on the elliptical machine, but has yet to assume full-on running yet.

"They wanted complete rest for three or four days, which he's done, probably in Cleveland or someplace he'll start moving a little bit," D'Antoni said. "If the pain is less or very little, then he'll play. But, we haven't gotten to that point yet."

The Lakers begin a four-game road trip Tuesday in Cleveland, followed by games against New York, Washington and Philadelphia.

D'Antoni said Nash is nearing his return after being out since the second game of the season with a fractured fibula in his left leg and could play sometime on the road trip.

"I think it's possible," D'Antoni said. "I wouldn't put my reputation on it, but, it's possible."

D'Antoni later backed off his assessment of Nash when he spoke to reporters before the Jazz game.

"Steve probably won't play this trip," D'Antoni said. "I'm always hoping maybe, but that's me, that's not probably going to happen."

Nash spent Sunday's shootaround working out with Lakers strength and conditioning coach Tim DiFrancesco.

"He's ramping it up," D'Antoni said of Nash. "He's even sweating over there, so that's good. I think he's getting there. He just does not want to take any steps back. He wants to be 100 percent, which I want him to be too. It's just too important to the team to get him (before) he feels great."

Nash has participated in individual shooting and dribbling drills, but has yet to try sprinting and hard cuts with his recovering left leg.

"I want it so bad, sometimes I think I'm seeing things," D'Antoni said when asked about Nash's progression. "It might not be there, so I don't know. Obviously he's doing more, but he's got a ways to go yet."