State of the Lakers: Awaiting the gift of Nash
DEC 20, 2012 6:47p ET
Christmas likely came early for the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday.
Point guard Steve Nash went through his first full workout since fracturing his left leg on Oct. 31 in Portland. He also worked individually with a trainer, focusing on strengthening the injured leg.
At the team’s annual Christmas party for kids, Nash smiled when asked if he was a “go” for Christmas Day against the Knicks at Staples Center — or possibly even a quicker return Saturday night at Golden State.
“I’m hoping,” he said, “but nothing’s certain. I want to see how I feel (Friday) morning and hopefully be able to practice. I don’t want to come back too soon. I don’t want to miss 10 more games because I aggravated it. The injury has caused me a considerable amount of pain and discomfort, so I’m taking it by the day. We’ll see how it goes, but Christmas is more realistic (than Saturday).”
So, the Lakers’ crisis of confidence could soon be over. However, as this loopy squad has proven throughout this season so far, nothing is for certain.
Center Dwight Howard, though, was impressed with Nash’s performance during the workout.
“He’s already making us a better team even though it’s practice,” said Howard, who will be one of the biggest beneficiaries when Nash returns. “Everybody knows how good he is. He’s one of the best to ever play. He’ll only help, that’s for sure.”
Coach Mike D’Antoni has been waiting for this day ever since he accepted the Lakers’ job after the team fired Mike Brown. Whenever he’s asked about Nash’s return, he hasn’t hesitated a moment to say that Nash’s return will help the Lakers become the team everyone expects them to be.
He’d better be right.
“I hope it’s a turning point,” D’Antoni said. “We’re not very good right now, so something needs to turn.”
He went on to say that he wasn’t trying to rip on the group of point guards who’ve been running the show all season, but reiterated that Nash is the best — at least for this system.
“He’s the best at (running the offense),” said the coach, “and when you’re best at something it’s going to run more smoothly.
What should happen immediately is a consistent reduction in turnovers, which might help the Lakers defense hold onto some leads. They turn the ball over 16 times a game — second worst in the league. That usually leads to opponent’s fast-break points; easy baskets that quickly blow a lead and deflate the team. Most of the time they haven’t recovered from the mistakes.
“The turnovers have killed us; that’s a fact,” D’Antoni said. “When Steve has the ball, a lot of that will stop.”
If you go by Nash’s career resume, that’s a certainty.
The 38-year-old native of Canada is one of basketball’s most skilled ball handlers ever, who seemingly follows a blueprint that allows him to get the ball to teammates in the perfect spot to maximize their offensive abilities. This will do nothing except improve the 12-14 Lakers.
While Nash’s return will bolster the Lakers offense, his resume also clearly points out that he’s a liability on defense, meaning Bryant and Howard will have to work harder each trip down the floor. Of course, D’Antoni could try to implement a team-defense scheme like the Showtime Lakers did to help Magic Johnson out on the defensive end. But the type of pressure needed to trap an opponent takes a lot of energy, and the Lakers’ starting backcourt isn’t getting any younger.
And then there’s the natural period of adjustment for Nash to learn his teammates and vice-versa. It could take a while before the Lakers are the team everyone envisioned when they signed Nash, traded for Howard and acquired scorer Antawn Jamison to go along with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.
And it could also turn out all of Mitch Kupchak’s moves were nothing but a great experiment gone very, very wrong.
Who's Hot: Kobe can top this category every week. And becoming the oldest player ever to score 30-plus points in seven straight games certainly earns him that distinction. But a special nod goes to Jodie Meeks, who came off the bench to average 14.4 points in his last five games, including 24 against Washington.
Who's Not: Antawn Jamison, whose performance has been the antithesis of Meeks. After having a nice run, he’s averaging 2.8 points per game in his last four, riding the bench the entire game against Charlotte last Tuesday.
1. Gasol is back after sitting out eight games with bad knees, and says he’s fully healthy. Now it’s time for D’Antoni to live up to his promises. He said that he’d definitely tweak his “seven seconds or less” offense if the team continued struggling, and despite three wins in a row they’re still struggling. D’Antoni needs to run more plays for one of the top four or five big men in the game and let the big Spaniard do his thing. Eighteen points, 10 rebounds and four or five assists would be routine for Pau — if he gets the minutes to do it. And some respect from his coach, who has given off an anti-Gasol vibe ever since he took over.
2. They need to keep it out of the public eye, but Lakers management has to try to get Howard to commit to staying with the team when his contract runs out. Maybe they already have begun talks — very quietly — which would be a smart move by the front office. But every time I hear Kobe hint that’s he’s playing one more year and that’s it, I start to think of a Lakers team with Gasol, Nash and Metta World Peace with no Kobe or Dwight. That’s got to be the ultimate nightmare scenario for the Buss family.
3. D’Antoni continues to baffle me with some of his decisions. Maybe he’s truly a mad scientist who does a little of this, a little of that, and is creating a super team while we all wonder what the heck he’s doing. Jordan Hill is a talented young player who changes the momentum of games when he comes off the bench. His energy is infectious and seems to get his teammates going. Yet D'Antoni leaves him on the bench and starts Devin Ebanks, with MWP coming off the bench. Why is Metta all of a sudden a reserve after starting the season’s first 25 games? “We need his energy off the bench,” D’Antoni said. Yep, he said it. So, instead of keeping MWP and his energy in the starting lineup, he’d rather bench Hill than bring him and HIS energy off the bench. I don’t get it.
Quotes of the Week
“Once little Gatsby gets back, we’ll be fine.” — Kobe Bryant, referring to Steve Nash by the nickname Bryant gave him.
“I can admit being very dysfunctional. But dysfunction is also function, and I got my dysfunction out of the way. Now it's all functional.” — Metta World Peace about being calmer on the floor.
“We were hunting and killed a Wildebeest. It fed an entire village for days. That was very cool.” — Dwight Howard talking about going on an African Safari.
News and Notes
* D’Antoni’s current plan is to keep Gasol and Howard from playing a lot of minutes together during games. He said he feels it’s the best way to get maximum effectiveness from both guys. I say it’s another way of blaming Gasol for the team’s problems.
* Bryant said again this past week that he still loves play the game, but it’s taking more and more time each year to get ready to play, and that one day he’ll just walk away. Don’t worry too much, Lakers fans. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar once said the same thing — and played 10 more years. And at 32 he was just a few years younger than Kobe. Kareem played 20 years in the NBA.
* The Lakers held their annual Christmas party for kids Thursday at the team’s El Segundo practice facility. Kids from all over the LA area were chosen to attend and were treated to lunch, snacks, pictures with the players and the very special treat of singing Christmas carols and playing video games with Howard. As fierce as he is on the court, that’s how nice he is when he’s around a bunch of children. He looked like he was having every bit as much fun at the party as the kids were.
Saturday at Golden State, Tuesday (Christmas) vs. New York Knicks, Wednesday at Denver.
The Knicks are having an excellent season, with Carmelo Anthony looking as if he has embraced the role of team leader. Tyson Chandler, who helped Dallas to the 2011 NBA title with his defense, is at it again, clogging the middle for the Knicks while also scoring 13 points per game. If this is Nash’s first game back, he’s in for a true test, even with the game being at Staples Center.
Tower of Power?
Nein (German), Nyet (Russian), Mhai (Cantonese), Nej (Sweden), Ne (Bulgarian). No.