EL SEGUNDO — Ever since he took over the Lakers’ head-coaching job, Mike D’Antoni has expressed giddiness working again with Steve Nash.
Nash won two NBA MVP awards after playing for D’Antoni through four seasons in Phoenix and running his famed fast-paced offense to near perfection. D’Antoni believes Nash will help the Lakers overcome the ongoing learning curves that’s contributed to a 9-11 record, good for 11th place in the Western Conference. And any chance he has, D’Antoni seems to see Nash’s return from a fractured left leg on the horizon.
“I hope so,” D’Antoni said. “I want it so bad that I think I’m seeing things that might not be there.”
So don’t take D’Antoni’s word that it’s “possible” that Nash will play in the Lakers’ four-game trip this week, including stops in Cleveland (Tuesday), New York (Thursday), Washington (Friday) and Philadelphia (Sunday). Take it as a sign that Nash is simply progressing.
“I wouldn’t put my reputation on it,” D’Antoni said, “but it’s possible.”
Nash, who has missed the past 18 games because of a non-displaced fracture in his left leg, spent the Lakers’ morning shootaround with strength & conditioning coach Tim DiFrancesco performing various agility drills. Nash then shot jumpers with assistant coaches Darvin Ham and Eddie Jordan. But D’Antoni said Nash has yet to run or make hard cuts.
In an interview with this newspaper last week, Nash estimated his return within 10 days to two weeks, although he stressed that was strictly a guess. Nash also categorized his improvement as fairly small.
“He’s ramping it up and sweating there,” D’Antoni said. “That’s good. I think he’s getting there. But I don’t think he wants to take any steps backward. He wants to be 100 percent, which I want him to be too. He’s just too important to the team.”
When Nash returns, the Lakers anticipate the offense will run more smoothly. Yet, Nash’s presence likely won’t solve all of the Lakers’ defensive problems. Plus, there’s the unpredictability surrounding how Nash will handle the return after spending the past 5 1/2 weeks off the court.
“He still has to get adjusted to playing,” Lakers center Dwight Howard said. “He hasn’t played in a while so it’s not going to happen over night where he comes back and everything just clicks. It’ll be great to have him back, but we still have to do our part . Our defense has to step up and do more. We have to start winning games.”
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