Maybe Pau Gasol deserves to start after all.
Gasol had 22 points and 12 rebounds in his return to the starting lineup, and Kobe Bryant nearly had a triple-double in leading the Los Angeles Lakers to a 111-100 victory at Minnesota on Friday night.
"It was a good feeling out there," Gasol said. "Like the good old days."
The Lakers found out at shootaround that they would be without Dwight Howard, who flew back to Los Angeles to get platelet-rich plasma therapy on his torn labrum. That put Gasol back in the starting lineup and the disgruntled four-time All-Star responded with 13 points in the first quarter.
"It's been a rough season so far, no way around it," said Gasol, who topped 20 points for just the third time this season. "Just stay with it, keep playing. You never know when things can change direction."
Bryant had 17 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists and Steve Nash added 17 points and seven assists. The Lakers have won four of their last five games.
The mini surge has helped the Lakers (21-26), who started the day 10th in the West, begin to climb out of a big hole. If they are going to get back into the playoff race, Bryant knows Gasol is going to have to be a bigger factor.
"When he's featured, this is what he does," Bryant said. "It's nothing out of the ordinary or unexpected. This is the Pau that helped us get back-to-back championships."
Raptors 98, Clippers 73: Rudy Gay wowed a sellout crowd by scoring 20 points in his Toronto debut as the host Raptors routed of short-handed Los Angeles.
Gay was acquired this week from the Memphis Grizzlies in a three-team trade that included Detroit. The forward came off the bench in his Raptors debut but wasted little time exciting his new fans. He scored seven points in the first quarter, when he was on the receiving end of two alley-oop passes, as the Raptors built a 22-17 advantage after one quarter.
Blake Griffin had 17 points and nine rebounds for the Clippers, who were without point guard Chris Paul (bruised right kneecap) for the sixth straight game. Los Angeles forward Matt Barnes served a one-game suspension for striking Minnesota's Greg Stiemsma on Wednesday.
The Clippers have lost five of their past eight overall and set season lows in points and field goal percentage (34.7).
NBPA: NBA players put union chief Billy Hunter on an indefinite leave, two weeks after a report they commissioned questioned Hunter's leadership and criticized him for bad decisions and questionable business practices. The union is forming an interim executive committee and an advisory committee.