SAN ANTONIO — The soreness in Steve Nash’s right hamstring won’t go away. But he vows that won’t keep him away from the court.
“I just feel fortunate I can play and try to help my team,” Nash said. “It’s not great. It’s not going to be great. But I have to worry about what I can do.”
As he painfully found out in the Lakers’ Game 1 loss Sunday to the San Antonio Spurs, Nash discovered he couldn’t do much. Nash finished with 16 points and committed only one of the team’s 18 turnovers. But he shot only 6 of 15 from the field, registered only three assists and couldn’t help the Lakers’ twin towers in Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard overcome San Antonio’s persistent double teams. Nash then reported afterwards that “I didn’t feel myself.”
Yet, Nash still participated Tuesday in the Lakers’ light practice. Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni expects Nash to play Game 2 Wednesday against San Antonio. And he reiterated a few times that, barring future setbacks in Nash’s hamstring, the Lakers guard for better or worse will play a part in helping the team overcome a 1-0 first-round deficit.
“It’s something we’ll have to have. I’ve seen him play better. He’s been the MVP twice,” D’Antoni said, referring to when Nash won the league award for two consecutive years in the four seasons he coached him in Phoenix. “But we’re not going to do this without him. He’s going to add a lot.”
Nash didn’t add much in Game 1.
The Lakers’ starting lineup featuring Nash (point guard), Steve Blake (shooting guard), Metta World Peace (small forward), Pau Gasol (power forward) and Dwight Howard (center) marked the first time the team used that combination all season. That’s because Nash’ return coincided with the first time he played without Kobe Bryant, who’s missed the past four contests because of a season-ending torn left Achilles’ tendon.
According to NBA.com, the Lakers’ starting lineup played 17 minutes and shot a collective 38.7 percent from the field. Meanwhile, the Lakers lineup featuring Darius Morris, Blake, World Peace, Gasol and Howard played eight minutes and shot a combined 54.5 percent from the field. Nash’s also only went 2 of 17 from the field on jumpers.
Does Nash have enough of his arsenal to make this work?
“The arsenal is probably an overexaggeration at this point,” Nash said in self-deprecating manner. “I have to do patchwork, fight and wheel the ball in the basket. At this point, you can’t pass on open looks. With this team, I still have to create some offense and get that balance. It is what it is. I have to keep fighting and be there for my teammates.”
But this goes beyond Nash inspiring his teammates or simply believing his presence will improve floor spacing.
“He needs to shoot well,” D’Antoni said. “But we have a better shot of him shooting well than anyone else I know. We’ll take our chances.”
Nash hardly sounded concerned about taking chances in further worsening his hamstring injury.
Nash vowed he would play right now even if it were a regular season game. Nash said he’s recovered enough from a three week absence that playing for the sake of spurring the Lakers’ playoff success won’t compromise his long-term health. Nash believes he won’t need an invasive procedure this offseason to treat a lingering injury that sidelined him for the last regular-season games. And he hardly sounded concerned about any lingering soreness, hoping he can manage it through his daily routine of treatment and on-court work.
“I love to play and I love this team,” Nash said. “I want to fight with these guys and be a part of this team having some happy times. We have a lot of down days. We stuck with it. We haven’t had a lot of success. That being said, we’ve played pretty well the last few months. But we had a lot of ups and downs and a lot of tough nights. I want to turn that around and be a part of helping these guys enjoy this.”]
Still, it’s proved challenging for Nash to maintain such optimism.
In what he described as a “tough year,” Nash also sat out for 24 games because of a fractured left leg. His 6.7 assists per game falls below his 17-year career average (6.7). And when Nash joined the Lakers this offseason to a three-year, $27 million deal, he believed he’d join a championship contending team.
Did Nash ever consider retiring?
“No. Not even close,” Nash said. “When I was healthy, I felt really good. Still, for the amount of opportunities I got on this team, I still was efficient as I’ve always been. When you play with Kobe, you’re not going to get the same amount of opportunities and that’s the way it should be. He should have the ball a lot. Your role is going to change. But as far as how it felt and my ability, once I got my legs under me after breaking my leg, I felt as good as I’ve ever had. I still feel optimistic I’ll feel that way next year.”
As far as how he will feel when he plays Game 2? That’s anybody’s guess.
“I’m still thrilled to get a chance to play in the series,” Nash said. “I’m thrilled to fight for my teammates and try to make something come out of all this.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org