Lakers' Pau Gasol could play Friday

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Pau Gasol ran up and down the court Wednesday in a game of 4-on-4 for the first time since suffering a plantar fascia tear in his right foot in early February, and if coach Mike D'Antoni has his way, Gasol's return to game action could be Friday.

"Hopefully Kobe [Bryant] and Pau will be back Friday, hopefully, and then we can start going forward with everybody that we need to have," D'Antoni said, later agreeing with a reporter who asked if he "expected" the pair back.

Bryant did not practice, using the time to rehabilitate his left ankle that he sprained against Atlanta last week, but tweeted, "Ankle feels fine. Gonna practice full speed tmr then take it from there."

While Bryant will be testing his ankle, Gasol said he planned to test his foot in 5-on-5 Thursday before making a final determination for the Lakers' game against the Washington Wizards on Friday.

"I feel confident, but we don't want to get too ahead of ourselves," Gasol said.

Steve Blake went home with flu-like symptoms Wednesday but is expected to return Friday as well.

L.A. has a one-game lead over the Utah Jazz for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, with the season ending in less than a month on April 17.

"Right now, it's all or nothing," Gasol said. "We're down the last stretch, and we have to give our very best as individuals and as a group in order to have the best shot."

The Lakers have had their top-five group of Gasol, Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Metta World Peace in the lineup together for only 17 of 69 games this season, going 6-11.

D'Antoni said the difference in that group over the final 13 games for L.A. should be their collective health.

"There were a lot of decisions made when Steve Nash wasn't on the floor 100 percent, a lot of decisions made when Dwight wasn't 100 percent and Pau wasn't playing real well in the beginning; he wasn't 100 percent," D'Antoni said. "All of them were hurt, and so you think, 'Well, that's not working. This is not working.'

"But when they're all 100 percent, it can work. That's what the management and we [on the coaching staff] envision: That Pau's too talented and too good, Dwight's too talented and too good, Kobe and go right down the list, Steve Nash. We have to be able to figure it out, and I think we can."

Gasol was clearly winded after the 4-on-4 game, which was played width-wise rather than lengthwise on the floor, and D'Antoni said Gasol could come off the bench while he works his way back into shape.

"His minutes might fluctuate early, because he doesn't have the stamina to stay out there," D'Antoni said. "We don't have the luxury for him to be on the floor if he's not 100 [percent]."

There will be a spot waiting for Gasol with the first unit when he is ready, however.

"He'll probably start at some point," D'Antoni said. "I don't know if it's the first game or it's the third game -- he's going to start, and he's going to finish games. We can't do anything in the playoffs without Pau being comfortable and 100 percent."

Gasol, who received an ultrasound Tuesday that confirmed his injury was healing correctly, said he is still experiencing a pain level of 3-4 out of 10 but called it "manageable."

"The more I push through it, the more I use it and do explosive moves, the more it's going to pull," Gasol said. "There's still some scar tissue to be kind of like released. So there's still going to be a little bit of soreness, but I think we're on the right path."

Gasol was asked what he noticed the most about his team while watching from the sideline as the Lakers went 13-7 in the last 20 games he missed.

"If our minds and our hearts are really into it, we can be a heck of a team and we can beat anybody," Gasol said. "That's what I've learned."