Pau Gasol Kobe Bryant

Kobe, Pau Gasol likely to return to Lakers lineup Friday

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Friday night, the Lakers may finally have a full healthy roster.

Kobe Bryant is expected to play following his ankle sprain and now it looks like Pau Gasol will be back from his foot injury. Coach Mike D’Antoni said as much after practice Wednesday which means the entire core of the team should be able to go Friday night when the Lakers take on the Wizards. Kevin Ding at the Orange County Register has the details.

At the time D’Antoni was speaking, Gasol was playing in a full-court 4-on-4 scrimmage that marked the first time he extended himself beyond halfcourt play in his recovery from a torn plantar fascia. Gasol is waiting to see how the foot feels after being pushed to that level — and whether he feels OK about moving up to full-court 5-on-5 Thursday — before deciding whether he plays Friday.

The Lakers’ next game after that is Monday at Golden State, beginning a four-game trip that goes on to Minnesota, Milwaukee and Sacramento. It appears that trip will be the truest test so far of where the Lakers are at full strength (aside from Jordan Hill, likely out of the season after hip surgery).

We really haven’t seen what the expected starting five of the Lakers — Steve Nash, Kobe, Metta World Peace, Gasol and Dwight Howard — can do. Well, they are 0-5 but with the early season turmoil of injuries and a radical coach and system change, there was no chance to get a read. Certainly they are talented, but how they work together remains to be seen.

All this should let Mike D’Antoni expand his rotation beyond eight players. Then the Lakers are have to both make the playoffs and build up as much chemistry and momentum as they can because their first round test is going to be very difficult, whoever it is.

Chris Paul finds brilliant counter to hack-a-DeAndre Jordan (video)

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I originally favored allowing Hack-a-Shaq as the NBA currently does. I found the strategy fascinated – why and when teams would use it and how their opponents would counter.

But it just became too common. Far too many games featured a parade of trips to the line, a boring stretch that made games too long. I thought the intrigue had run its course.

Then, Chris Paul pulled this move last night.

The Clippers guard saw Jonas Jerebko charging toward DeAndre Jordan to commit an intentional foul, so Paul stepped in front of an unsuspecting Jerebko and took the foul himself. That’s sent a good free-throw shooter to the line instead of the dismal Jordan.

Just an awesome heady play by Paul.

PBT Podcast: NBA All-Star Weekend talk, predictions with Sean Highkin

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NBA All-Star weekend descends upon frigid Toronto starting Friday, with everything from the Rookie/Sophomore… er, Rising Stars Challenge on Friday, the Dunk Contest/Three-Point Contest on Saturday, and the main event on Sunday.

Kurt Helin and Sean Highkin of NBC’s ProBasketballTalk break it all down, from Pau Gasol replacing Jimmy Butler to predictions on the Dunk Contest and if anyone can knock off Zach LaVine. Plus, there is plenty of “why Sting?” talk.

PBT will be in Toronto with reports from the event all weekend, so come back early and often for all the latest (plus trade talk, as all the GMs get together in one city where it’s too cold for them to go outside).

As always, you can listen to the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunesdownload it directly here, or you can check out our new PBT Podcast homepage, which has the most recent episodes available. If you have the Stitcher app, you can listen there as well.

Pistons retire Chauncey Billups’ jersey at halftime (VIDEO)

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — Moments before his jersey went up to the rafters, Chauncey Billups spoke to the crowd about the night the Detroit Pistons wrapped up the 2004 NBA title by routing the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 5 of the Finals.

“We had one motivation,” he said. “We wanted to win it here at home.”

Billups was the most valuable player in the Finals that year, and he had his No. 1 jersey retired by the Pistons on Wednesday night at halftime of their game against Denver.

He was the second player from that 2004 team honored by the Pistons this year. The Pistons retired Ben Wallace’s jersey last month at a similar ceremony – in front of a packed house on a night Detroit beat Golden State.

There were some empty seats in the upper level Wednesday, but Billups wanted to be honored while the Pistons were playing the Nuggets. Billups is a Denver native and played for the Nuggets for two stints during his career.

“This was by design, only because there’s a lot of people that contributed to my success as a player and as a man, in Denver, my hometown,” Billups said before the game. “There were several dates that I could have chosen. This one obviously stuck out.”

Billups does have a mild regret about his run of success with the Pistons. He figures they could have won more titles.

“I felt like, two and maybe three championships – we were that good,” he said.

Ben Wallace was on hand Wednesday, and so were Richard Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince from the 2004 champions. Pistons great Isiah Thomas was also at the Palace for the ceremony.

“This is what tradition looks like,” Thomas told the crowd. “This is what it feels like.”