Spurs' Pau Gasol (hand) expected back by end of All-Star break

SAN ANTONIO -- Spurs center Pau Gasol, who underwent surgery on his left hand in January, could return to the lineup sooner than expected, according to head coach Gregg Popovich.

Gasol injured the fourth metacarpal on his left hand when he collided with teammate Kyle Anderson during warm-ups before San Antonio's win Jan. 19 over the Denver Nuggets, but Popovich said he's expecting the center to return to the lineup by the end of the All-Star break.

"They tell me that maybe at the beginning of All-Star break, somewhere around there, maybe he can play a game," Popovich said before Thursday's 102-86 win over the Philadelphia 76ers. "And if not, when we return, he should be able to. So, I'm guessing that probably after break, he'll be ready to go."

Gasol walked off the court grimacing and flexing his left hand when he suffered the injury, and the team immediately took X-rays at the arena. David Lee took Gasol's place in the starting lineup, but Dewayne Dedmon started Thursday night, recording 13 points and 10 rebounds for his second double-double for the Spurs.

The Spurs (37-11) never announced a timeline for Gasol's return, but sources told ESPN in January it could be from four to eight weeks. Popovich said it appears Gasol's return will come sooner. He's working out twice a day at the Spurs' facility to maintain conditioning.

"You can't even see him anymore," Popovich joked. "I look at him sideways, and I can't see him because they're working him out twice a day. He's dying to get out of the training room with those guys."

The Spurs, who have gone 6-2 in Gasol's absence, was also without LaMarcus Aldridge (sore right knee) on Thursday night.

During the 2013-14 season, Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard suffered essentially the same injury as Gasol when he fractured the fourth metacarpal on his right hand, which put him out of commission for 14 games. Toronto center Jonas Valanciunas missed 17 games with a broken left hand in 2015.

The built-in time off for the All-Star break should decrease the number of games Gasol will miss.

The Spurs host the Denver Nuggets on Saturday before packing up for their annual Rodeo Road Trip, which will span eight games. Popovich said he isn't sure whether Gasol will make that trip.

"I don't know," Popovich said. "I'm trying to decide whether that's good or bad because he's working out twice a day here. So that's pretty good."

A 16-year veteran, Gasol signed with the Spurs on July 14 and has started 39 games this season. He is averaging 11.7 points and 7.9 rebounds and shooting 51 percent from the field.

Gasol recorded the third-best shooting night from the field in franchise history just a week before his injury when he made all nine of his shots and scored 22 points to go with nine rebounds and six assists in 25 minutes in a 134-94 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.

Gasol also produced his sixth double-double of the season Dec. 28 against the Phoenix Suns with 16 points and 10 rebounds.

Gasol is second on the team behind Aldridge in blocks this season with 45.