It'll be different ... when Steve Nash comes back

November, 24, 2012
11/24/12
11:52
PM PT
Shelburne By Ramona Shelburne
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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DALLAS -- Steve Nash stands a shade over 6-foot-3 when his latest hairdo is freshly combed, dresses well, has a wicked sense of humor and is one of the more socially conscious athletes in professional sports.

One day he will be a Hall of Famer. For as long as he plays, he'll be one of the best point guards in the game.

But to hear the Los Angeles Lakers, particularly coach Mike D'Antoni, talk about him of late, he's become more mythic superhero than man.

"In Phoenix, we couldn't win without him," D'Antoni said reverentially. "Not even a game."

On Saturday evening, the Lakers won their seventh game without Nash, a 115-89 blowout of the Dallas Mavericks that stopped the bleeding after two straight buzz-killing road losses this week. But there was no celebration in the Lakers' locker room.

Relief, maybe. A few smiles, sure.

But it's become clear to all involved that we really won't know anything about these Lakers -- D'Antoni's Lakers -- until Nash, who has been out since Oct. 31 with a fractured leg, is ready to run 'em again.

"No," Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said when asked that very question. "This team, the idea of this team, was built with all of us playing together. Right now we're playing well this way. The young fella, [Darius] Morris, is coming in and giving us a little lift.

"But when Steve comes back, things will change. You have one of the greatest point guards of all times that you're missing out of the lineup. It changes things."

So, yes, Saturday's win over the Mavericks felt good. The Lakers came out with a defensive intensity that overwhelmed the Mavericks early and made up for their still-evolving offense. They got tremendous shooting from Metta World Peace, who finished with 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting (five 3-pointers). And they enjoyed a nice lift off the bench from Antawn Jamison (19 points, 15 rebounds).

But this was just a win, not a statement.

"It's always important to get a win," D'Antoni said. "You can't just keep losing. But we've got a training camp to go through yet, in the sense that it's another month before we get things right. In the meantime, we've got to win as many as we can and not get in too big of a hole."

Nash should be back before then. He is scheduled to be re-evaluated Monday but is still experiencing pain in the nerves near the area where he banged knees with Portland rookie Damian Lillard. He hasn't been able to jog yet, let alone shoot a basketball.

In other words, his return is closer but not imminent.

"We're bouncing along a little bit and we hope that he has the same effect he had in Phoenix," D'Antoni said.

The Lakers suddenly maligned big men, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard, had better games against the Mavericks than they did in the previous two road games, in which they combined to score just 28 points on 10-for-27 shooting. But neither had anything that looked like a breakthrough. Gasol had 13 points and nine boards in 28 minutes, and Howard had 15 points and seven rebounds in 32 minutes.

And the issue of whether each will get more touches in the post remains far from settled.

"Pau is a great player and will always be a great player," D'Antoni said. "We'll keep tinkering and working. A lot of this stuff [we’ll keep fixing], too, when the Steves [Nash and Blake] come back."

There's that refrain, again: Wait 'til Nash comes back.

It'd be annoying if it weren't so true.

"I mean, in my eyes, he's the one that pretty much invented this offense," Jamison said. "Steve, he just creates so many easy opportunities for his teammates. He knows how to put the pressure on the defense. He knows where guys need to be. It's almost like having another coach on the floor."

For Gasol and Howard -- the two players whose roles have been most affected by the switch to D'Antoni's offense -- that pretty much just means having faith ... in Nash, in D'Antoni, in the idea that they'll be able to make this all work.

After benching Gasol in the fourth quarter of Friday's loss to the Grizzlies, D'Antoni approached Gasol on the team bus for a little chat.

His message was simple:

"Just stay with it," Gasol recalled. "We're in this together."

Waiting on Nash.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Nick Young
PTS AST STL MIN
17.9 1.5 0.7 28.3
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Hill 7.4
AssistsK. Bryant 6.3
StealsK. Bryant 1.2
BlocksW. Johnson 1.0