DALLAS – The last thing the old-and-slow Lakers (Kobe’s words, not mine) need is more bad injury news. Yet there was Steve Nash sitting straight as a light pole in his locker room chair, his back stiffening up, after scoring 20 points Sunday afternoon to grab a big win over the Mavericks.
Nash played through considerable pain for a second straight game due to a lingering back ailment that he says isn’t related to the issues he’s endured for years that would force him to lay on his back on the baseline when he came out of games instead of sitting on the bench.
“This is different,” Nash said. “I don’t know if I made some kind of movement or if I got hit or something, but my vertebrae kind of locked up on me and the muscles therefore overcompensated so I had little spasms back there. I just don’t have that much freedom in there, but if I can get through one more [game], we have a softer week, so hopefully I can get through it. If I had a few days in between I think it would go away easily.”
Nash’s back will be put to the test tonight against speedy point guard Ty Lawson and the up-tempo Nuggets in Denver’s thin air. Then L.A. doesn’t play again until Thursday at home against Minnesota and then Sunday at home against Atlanta, so Nash catches a bit of a break there.
He hid his discomfort rather well Sunday after an awful shooting game Friday against Portland. Nash logged nearly 34 minutes and scored a season-high 20 points — 13 in the second half — and knocked down a season-best four 3-pointers on five attempts. His 25-foot swish with 1:44 to go put the Lakers up 99-95.
“He came out in the second half and really gave us a big boost. He was very aggressive offensively,” Kobe Bryant said. “It forced them defensively to make some changes to the coverages, which freed up a lot of the shooters. He’s big-time, extremely clutch and makes big plays, of course, off the pass, off the dribble and knocking down shots.”
Kobe also should have mentioned, off the ball.
Because that’s how Nash is playing much of the time this season with Bryant taking it upon himself to share ball-handling and facilitating duties.
“I still think I have more to give, but I have to embrace playing off the ball sometimes because we can’t play five different styles,” Nash said. “We’ve got to try to meld and conform and try to play together. I can’t be over there without the ball worried about having the ball, I have to try to be active and anticipate, be on the balls of my feet, a bounce in my step, bright eyes, and be ready to attack instead of worrying about, ‘this is uncomfortable, this isn’t the way I’ve played.’ That would be a detriment.”
Nash’s 7.2 apg is still good enough to rank him in the top 10 (although he doesn’t officially qualify having played just 33 games), yet he’s 3.5 assists below last season’s average in Phoenix. He’s finished seven of the last eight seasons with a double-digit assist average, and the one year he didn’t he averaged 9.7.
Nash had four assists Sunday, which was the sixth time this season he’s finished with four or fewer assists in a game. In 62 games last season, that happened twice.
He’s had five or fewer assists 10 times this season. That happened four times all of last season.
The strangeness of the Lakers’ collective season is certainly not lost on Nash, who, for one, never figured he’d ever wear a Lakers’ uniform. Then he fractured his leg in the second game of the season and unexpectedly missed two months. Then came Kobe’s facilitating mode that pushed Nash off the ball.
Now he’s dealing with a back issue at a most critical time when every game for the Lakers has an impact on their playoff chances.
“At this stage you just got to try not to think about it and play and try to help your team,” Nash said. “If you’re not much help, it’s up to the coach to decide. I’m just going to try to do what I can.”