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Lakers Anxious for Return of Pau Gasol Despite 6-1 Record

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On Wednesday, news floated out of the Lakers training facility that got the attention of most basketball fans and media outlets. It concerned the readiness of the team's power forward/center, Pau Gasol.

He has been sidelined for more than a month and it is attributed to a strained hamstring. He injured it in the pre-season and hasn't been on the court for one game since then.

Gasol was instrumental in the team's achievements last year culminating in the NBA championship. So much so that many observers, including me, believed that he was the most valuable player on the team, other than the superstar and future Hall of Famer, Kobe Bean Bryant.

He played both the forward and the center positions out of necessity after the team's starting center, Andrew Bynum went down with an MCL tear. It was the second season in a row that Bynum was out for months with a serious knee injury and in 2008 without Bynum in uniform, the Lakers got to the Finals but lost in bad fashion to the Boston Celtics.

It was widely believed that without Bynum, the team couldn't get to the mountain top. And yet with the young center still not fully recovered from his injury, the Lakers triumphed in 2009. But for Gasol's ability to score with either hand, down low or from mid-range as well as his passing ability and chemistry with Bryant, a championship trophy wouldn't be sitting in the lap of the Lakers.

The Gasol-watch has been a daily ritual for the media members who cover the team and coach Phil Jackson, known to use sarcasm when answering questions from reporters, has had to try and guess when Gasol will return to the court. Despite the team's record of 6-1, the players as well as Jackson know that a healthy Gasol is necessary for their title defense in a very long NBA season.

On Wednesday, in an attempt at humor, Jackson said that he was targeting Christmas as a date for Gasol's return to regular practice. In truth, although Gasol has practiced twice in recent days and had setbacks each time as a result of that, he is looking at hitting the hard wood next week.

Jackson's words spread like wildfire on the Internet as ESPN.com carried the story and it was picked up by Twitter. Unless you are in the presence of the coach, you can't possibly glean the true meaning of some of what he says into microphones.

No one is sure when he will return and while the team has hope it will be sooner rather than later, the NBA season marches on. The Lakers will face a tough back-to-back starting tonight at home vs. the division leading Phoenix Suns and then play against the Nuggets in Denver on Friday night.

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