Pau Gasol returns to the lineup but remains on a minutes watch

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ORLANDO – Like the Bulls didn’t have enough problems this season.

Enter life with Pau Gasol and a right knee that wasn’t expected to get better over the final 10 games.

The veteran was back in the starting lineup Saturday against the Orlando Magic, but admitted that the injured IT Band in the knee could lead to more swelling with the best cure being rest.

“Yes, [the swelling is] part of it,’’ Gasol said. “It’s likely after our games the knee will react and will need a little time to settle back to where it needs to be in order to go at it again. We’ll manage it the best we can and go from there.’’

Gasol missed the Mar. 14 game with Toronto, after the knee first swelled up on him. The plan was to give him some games off, and he returned to play Mar. 21 against Sacramento. After a home game against New York two nights later, however, there was once again some swelling so he sat in the Thursday game in New York.

According to Gasol, there were two concerns he was dealing with, starting with more swelling this season, as well as the fact that this type of injury can get worse.

“Potentially it can [worsen],’’ Gasol said. “That’s why we’re doing our best so that it doesn’t. At the same time, with the urgency to be on the floor again and help the team.’’

Like he did against Sacramento and New York, the 25-minute mark was near the limit against the Magic. That 25-minute mark could be stretched out over the remainder of the season, but it will all come down to how the veteran big man responds game-to-game.

“A lot of it will be game-to-game, seeing how he responds to each game,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said. “[Sunday] when we get back [to Chicago], he’ll obviously be evaluated, and see how he responds to [Saturday’s] minutes. And then we’ll make a plan for the next game against Atlanta.

“So it’s going to be pretty much a day-to-day, game-to-game type thing for Pau and how he manages his minutes moving forward.’’

Gasol, 35, can opt out of his Bulls contract this offseason and become a free agent, and was also scheduled to play with the Spanish team in the Olympics, so there’s undoubtedly a lot at stake for him over the next few weeks.

The veteran said he’s only thinking about the now.

“I’m concerned about the season, and when the season ends we’ll have a chance to deal with it the way we should,’’ Gasol said. “Hopefully the damage will stay the same and not increase.’’

No meeting necessary

If there was a group of players that needed a team meeting to vent and get on the same page, the Bulls would be ideal candidates. That never happened this season.

“I think everybody knows their job,’’ Jimmy Butler said, when asked why a meeting didn’t occur. “I think players-only meetings can work for some people. Sometimes, it’s just a show. We don’t need that. We know what we’re capable of, what we’re supposed to be doing and what we haven’t been doing. Players’ meeting or not, it’s very subpar for us right now.’’

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