PORTLAND, Ore. — Steve Nash returned for the first time to the same venue where his season almost ended.
It may seem like a distant memory, what with the persistent losing and daily soap opera that’s emasculated the Lakers thus far. But Nash fractured his left leg Oct. 31 against the Portland Trail Blazers in only the second game of the season, an injury that sidelined him for the next 24 games. With the Lakers firing Mike Brown in favor of Mike D’Antoni five games into the season, Nash’s injury delayed the Lakers’ progression in learning D’Antoni’s pick-and-roll heavy system.
With the Lakers entering Wednesday’s game against Portland with only a 1/2 game lead over the Utah Jazz for the Western Conference’s eighth playoff spot, Nash’s absence marked his fifth consecutive missed game because of soreness in his right hamstring and hip. Nash also considers himself “questionable” for the Lakers host the Golden State Warriors Friday at Staples Center.
Has this proven to be the most difficult challenge Nash has encountered in his 17-year NBA career?
“Right up there, if not the most frustrating,” said Nash, who joined the Lakers this offseason to a three-year, $27 million deal. “I’ve played a long time so I can’t recall all those years. Maybe it’s because of the freshness that it feels.”
So how does his latest injury feel?
“It’s definitely getting better every day,” Nash said. “But I’m not free to do everything yet. It’s getting closer.”
Nash said he still feels lingering pain in his hamstring, admitting concerns that he could tear it during certain movements. He also said the pain partly attributes to nerves affecting his hamstring as well.
Either way, this is hardly what the Lakers envisioned when acquiring what many consider to be one of the NBA’s best point guards of this generation. D’Antoni expressed particular giddiness upon receiving the Lakers’ head-coaching job because he coached Nash through four seasons in Phoenix (2004-2008) that included him winning two NBA MVP awards.
Nash has averaged 12.7 points on 49.7 percent shooting and 6.7 assists per game this season, an understandable drop-off to his career averages in points (14.4) and assists (8.5) considering he plays with Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol.
“I don’t know if there’s many point guards in the histroy of the game that played at that level that played as good as he played for a couple of years,” D’Antoni said when he coached Nash in Phoenix. “He didn’t make any mistakes and was one of the best shooters if not the best shooter in all-time history. It’s hard to duplicate that. As you get older, obviously you have to have certain things go your way. You’re not going to be able to be the MVP like he was two times in a row. But his level is still very high. We just have to get everything right and get him going again.”
Yet, that uncertainty lingers.
“I always try to keep my head down, keep pushing, fight and try to help and get better as a team. I feel like that allowed me to come out after seven weeks to play after two practices,” Nash said regarding his initial leg injury. “It’s not easy, but it’s because of the hard work. Things weren’t going well with the team so I just tried to get better. Now I’m back struggling and fighting to get better again. But it’s frustrating.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org