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D'Antoni dishes on Nash's minutes, defense

12/26/2012

DENVER -- There is no doubting the impact Steve Nash had on the Los Angeles Lakers' offense in his first two games back from the fractured fibula in his left leg, but there are still two areas of concerns for many Lakers fans: Nash's minutes and his defense.

Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni shrugged off both of those issues before L.A. played the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night.

When asked about Nash averaging 39.5 minutes in his first two games back, which allowed him to get to his 14.0 points and 10.0 assist averages along with the Lakers scoring 109 points per game, D'Antoni said he's keeping an eye on Nash's playing time more out of concern for public perception than his point guard's health.

"Yeah, because I will get killed if I say no," D'Antoni said with a chuckle. "He's only 38, come on. Here's how I look at it: I agree, we should get it down to about 34 [minutes per game]. Is three minutes playing better than having a day off the next day? I'm pretty liberal about giving him a day off and don't practice him and making sure he is ready to go. Is it better to go ahead and practice for an hour and a half or give him three minutes on the floor? I go the other way. I think it's more important that he plays, obviously. But, we will watch it, and as [Steve] Blake comes back and we get a little bit more comfortable about where we are, then I can cut it down a little bit more."

D'Antoni said that Blake was about "2-3 weeks" away from returning after undergoing abdominal surgery in early December. Having Blake available will certainly cut into Nash's minutes.

As for Nash's defense, which has been the biggest criticism of his two-time MVP, Hall of Fame-bound career, D'Antoni claims Nash is actually a better defender now than when they teamed together five seasons ago with the Phoenix Suns.

"He hasn't really slowed down; I haven't seen a whole lot," D'Antoni said. "He has gotten better defensively, I think. I think he is a better player now than he was in Phoenix, to a certain degree."

Just how has Nash improved defensively?

"Just him hounding people, getting through picks and different things," D'Antoni said. "He was a little bit better than what they always said, he's a better defender. Especially as a team defender he's really good and his understanding of the game is really good.

"So, it was never true that he couldn't defend and we couldn't defend [in Phoenix]. That's not true. We were always 10th or 11th or 12th or 13th. We were right there playing small and when you play small, you give up some second-chance points. But he said he's worked on his leg strength the last couple years to try to get better at it, and he has."

The Lakers rank 15th in the league this season in defensive efficiency, giving up 102.0 points per 100 possessions.

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.