LOS ANGELES — Steve Nash is focused on 2013-14.
“Put it this way,” Nash said, “I am optimistic and I feel like I’ll be great next year.”
This year, however, is over. The 39-year-old point guard will end his first season with the Los Angeles Lakers essentially the way it began — in pain.
Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni officially ruled out Nash for Sunday’s Game 4 (7 p.m. ET, TNT), a must-win for L.A. to force an improbable, seemingly impossible, Game 5 in San Antonio. For the first time during this lopsided series that the Spurs lead 3-0, Nash was not in practice gear and was not available following a Lakers workout.
“It’s the worst,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, whose San Antonio teams have long and colorful playoff history against Nash and his old Phoenix Suns. “It’s not just that he’s a good player, a great player, he’s a competitor. He’s one of the all-time competitors. To see him sitting on the sideline, you got to know that it’s killing him, it’s just killing him. I feel bad in the regard.”
Nash is dealing with back, hip and hamstring problems that are all related. He tweaked the injuries on the final play of Game 2, tried a cortisone shot to his hip and two epidural shots to his back in hopes of taking the court in Game 3, but he couldn’t do it.
“The irony, I guess, is that the back doesn’t affect me functionally, but the back is probably the root of all the problems,” said Nash, who has dealt with back issues for years. “It’s the hamstring and the hip that really prevented me, and I tweaked the whole system there on the last play of the half and it all went downhill from there.”
The Lakers’ ridiculously long injury list grew by one — and why not? — with Metta World Peace removing himself from Game 4 after sitting out the second half of Game 3. He irritated the right knee that he had surgically repaired just a month ago. Also out for what will will be Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks and, obviously, Kobe Bryant.
“It’s just been a crazy year. You can point back to the very start,” Nash said on Friday. “The bottom line is there’s no one reason, it’s just bad luck and a bunch of circumstances and, you know, it’s a shame.”
But Nash, as physically fit and nutritionally conscious as any player in the league, is planning for big things next season when the Lakers could well put essentially the same roster back on the floor if they re-sign Dwight Howard this summer. Pau Gasol could be gone, and Antawn Jamison and Earl Clark are free agents along with Howard.
Nash has two more seasons on his contract at $19 million. When training camp opens next October, speculation will be if Nash’s body can hold up. This season started with a freak incident, a broken leg and nerve damage in the second game of the season at Portland. Nash will turn 40 before the next All-Star Game.
Nash said he doesn’t discount the destructive forces of time on the body, but he said it’s unfair to blame this season’s series of ailments strictly on his age. His durability over 17 seasons is nothing short of remarkable. He missed 32 games this season, four times as many as in any recent season. He sat out eight in 2008-09, and you have to go back to 1999-2000 to find a season when he missed more.
“It’d be foolish not to say that it [age] could play some part, but I also think it’s really myopic to say that because I finally had an injury bug it’s age,” Nash said. “I think the biggest scenario is that everybody gets hurt at some point. The fact that I’m getting hurt now and haven’t been hurt before, it’s easy for everyone to say he’s getting old. I mean look around the room, what about the other guys? Is it because they’re getting old?”
Look beyond the Lakers. Look at the unfortunate injury list across the league: Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook (meniscus tear) is 24. Denver’s Danilo Gallinari (ACL) is 24. Golden State’s David Lee is 29. Boston’s Rajon Rondo is 27. Chicago’s Derrick Rose is 24.
Barring a miraculous comeback by the Lakers starting with Sunday’s Game 4, we have seen the last of Nash for this season.
But he’ll be back, and D’Antoni, whose greatest success came with Nash in Phoenix, believes he’ll have plenty left.
“I mean he’s dying inside,” D’Antoni said of Nash missing playoff games. “Then again, I think he’s excited about trying to get his body straight and coming back and having a great year. They’re on a mission, he, Kobe, Steve Blake, all of them are getting ready for another year.
“That’s them. We’re trying to lengthen this [series] and trying to win a game on Sunday.”