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Gasol expects to return for Heat showdown

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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) - Pau Gasol has spent far too much of the past 10 days in dark rooms with no distractions. He's eager to get back under the NBA's bright lights as the Los Angeles Lakers try to get it together in time for a playoff run.

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Gasol expects to return from a concussion on Thursday night when the Lakers host the Miami Heat. The 7-foot Spaniard was optimistic about his health and the Lakers' chances after going through a short workout with his teammates Wednesday at their training complex.

``Everything felt good, and tomorrow will be a go,'' said Gasol, who has missed five games since Denver's JaVale McGee accidentally elbowed him in the face.

``I'll have to ease my way back into it, because this is the first day I've actually got some good work done on the court,'' Gasol added. ``After a week and a half of inactivity, your body needs a certain time to get back out there and perform at your best. ... It's hard also to behave when you have a concussion and you're at home, and they tell you no TV, no computer, no reading. What are you supposed to do? It's hard just to stay still at home, especially if you're an active person. So you learn it's no joke.''

Gasol and the Lakers (17-21) both realize they've got to recover quickly from recent setbacks. Although they've won two straight heading into their visit from the defending NBA champions, the star-studded team is still facing an uphill climb in the second half of the season just to make the playoffs.

Los Angeles decisively beat Cleveland and Milwaukee over the past four days, but only after a six-game losing streak that dropped them well out of the Western Conference's top eight. The Lakers are feeling a bit better about themselves after those two wins, particularly with Dwight Howard in top form since his return from a shoulder injury, but Kobe Bryant knows Miami will provide a better barometer on their collective recovery.

``It's a good measuring stick for us to see how much we've improved since last week, when we played against several top teams and they all beat us,'' Bryant said. ``This is a big test with the defending champs coming to town.''

Yet Bryant realizes the Lakers haven't looked capable of contending with elite teams like Miami and Oklahoma City, which routed the Lakers last week. Los Angeles' four biggest stars have played together only for short stretches of the season, and Gasol is eager to see how the Lakers can handle coach Mike D'Antoni's offense when they're all together again.

Gasol said he doesn't care whether Earl Clark remains in the starting lineup when he returns, although D'Antoni has said Gasol is his starter when ready. Gasol is just grateful to be back on the court after the first concussion of his life.

Gasol's mother is a physician, and Pau attended a year of medical school before entering the NBA draft a decade ago.

``It's been a learning experience,'' said Gasol, who is averaging a career-low 12.2 points and 8.4 rebounds. ``Just to learn the symptoms, the struggling of getting up every day and not feeling better, just having a constant headache, being bothered by light and noise and not knowing what the next day is going to be like and not knowing when you're going to be back and healthy.''

Gasol also researched his injury, learning that athletes with multiple concussions are at larger risk for serious complications. He can't deny thinking about the long-term effects, but won't allow it to stop him from playing hard down low.

``It's an unfortunate hit, but those can happen any day at any time,'' Gasol said. ``You have to be careful. It's a brain injury, and without a brain, we don't function. Potentially there's damage now. You have to reset your brain. You struggle with stuff you'd never think you'd struggle with. It's been a process, and I'm finally turning the corner, so now I just hope I don't get hit again.''

Howard has played well in the Lakers' last two wins, racking up 53 points and 30 rebounds against the Cavaliers and Bucks. Bryant and Steve Nash have made a visible effort to get the ball to the easygoing big man near the hoop, and Howard has predictably capitalized.

The equation sounds simple, but the Lakers haven't maximized their size advantages with Howard and Gasol this season. Howard believes the Lakers still have plenty of time to get the most out of their ample talent.

``Things are always going to be said when you're not winning and everybody is expecting us to blow everybody out,'' Howard said. ``So when we do lose, some people search for why we're losing, but we've just got to stay patient, stay together and believe. When we stay focused and we stay together, we'll be great.

``We're learning, but stuff like that takes time. The biggest thing, we've just got to stick together. We can't let nothing on the outside tear us apart.''

AP NEWS
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The Associated Press
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