After going through full-court contact drills during Saturday’s practice, Steve Nash said he will return when the Lakers play Sunday in Game 1 of their first-round matchup against the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center.
“I plan on playing unless there is a setback between now and then,” said Nash, who missed the past eight games because of persisting soreness in his right hamstring. “But so far, so good.”
Nash said he sprinted 10 times up and down the court during a scrimmage, concluding “I got through it okay.” The Lakers guard participated in half-court drills Friday, but still said the nerve issues surrounding his hamstring inhibited him from running at full speed. But more time allowed Nash to feel the affects of an epidural shot that he received on Tuesday.
Should Nash return for the first time since March 28, the Lakers starting lineup could feature him at point guard, Steve Blake at shooting guard, Metta World Peace at small forward, Pau Gasol at power forward and Dwight Howard at center. But Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said he hasn’t determined his starting lineup until he sees how Nash’s body responds Sunday morning.
“Obviously he’s not going to play a lot of minutes,” D’Antoni said. “Whatever he can give us will be great. We’ll play it by ear. As the series goes on, he should get stronger.”
If not, Nash hardly minced words that he shouldn’t play.
“He’s got to coach this team to win the game,” Nash said of D’Antoni. “If I’m not helping and I’m not capable, he’s got to get me out. That’s the bottom line. There’s no time to be sentimental. If I can’t get it done, I shouldn’t be out there.”
The Lakers have gone 7-1 in Nash’s absence. Blake averaged 12.63 points and 4.57 assists per game. And the Lakers have found a new-found identity by featuring Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol on offense. Through eight games in April, the scoring output from Gasol (17.5 points) and Howard (20.88 points) marked their highest production since playing in the starting lineup together.
Either way, the Lakers would welcome Nash’s return for obvious reasons, what with his passing, ball-handling and playmaking skills. The Lakers are also without Kobe Bryant because of a season-ending torn left Achilles tendon. The Lakers’ defense, however, has allowed only 95 points in the past two games during Bryant’s absence. Good luck putting Nash on Spurs guard Tony Parker, who has still averaged 20.3 points on 52.2 percent shooting and 7.6 assists despite recently nursing nursed shin, neck and ankle injuries
“Defensively isn’t necessarily my ‘A’ game,” Nash said with a light laugh. “I don’t think the coaches have been pleased with my defense this year. But it’s something I always have to work extra hard at, but offensively is where I think the team is really going to need me. I have to be up to par there or else I have to turn it someone else if I’m not able to do it.”
Still, for a player who hasn’t played basketball for three weeks, Nash said he “absolutely” feels excited about his return.
“Anything is possible,” Nash said. “I might go like a breeze and it might more difficult from the start. You never know. But I’m working hard to get myself in a position to give it a shot. I’m going to try.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org