At some point when Steve Nash kept making the dazzling passes that will earn him an eventual induction in the Hall of Fame, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni approached him with a simple message.
“This is not your last game,” D’Antoni said, mindful that Nash had suggested that very idea mere hours before the Lakers’ 107-95 loss Friday to the Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center became official.
Nash had always held out hope he could keep playing the remaining two weeks of the season. It would provide a feel-good moment in an otherwise disastrous season in which the Lakers (25-51) will miss the playoffs and Nash would remain hobbled because of persisting nerve damage in his back. It would provide a barometer in what he would need to do this offeason in hopes to improve his health to play out the final season of his contract worth $9.8 million. It would tap into Nash’s unquenchable thirst to play, banter with teammates and climb up the NBA’s all-time assists mark.
Yet, Nash hinted this would mark his last game for various reasons. He doubted he could recover in time for the Lakers’ game Sunday against the Clippers in a designated road game at Staples Center. Nash also seemed aware that Jordan Farmar’s pending return Tuesday against Houston meant he would sit so the Lakers could evaluate how Kendall Marshall and Farmar fit into their free agency plans.
Nash did not speak to reporters afterwards, but D’Antoni reported Nash fully embracing the sudden change of plans.
“He said, ‘Okay,'” D’Antoni said. “We’ll play him.”
D’Antoni still expressed pessimism for Nash to play Sunday, saying “that would be tough” for him to recover in time for what D’Antoni considered “almost like a back-to-back.”
But D’Antoni’s revelation about Nash’s future with six games remaining also suggests a sudden shift in strategy. The Lakers originally ruled Nash out last month so Marshall and Farmar could play significant minutes. Nash only played in the past two weeks because of Farmar’s groin injury that has sidelined him for the past 10 contests.
“I can play two point guards. It doesn’t mean we don’t play Jordan,” D’Antoni said. “There’s room for him out there.”
Nash’s play certainly yielded some optimism, which included four points and seven assists in 18 minutes. That number could have gone higher had the Lakers shot better than 42.2 percent from the field.
“He’s should’ve given me the ball more!” joked Lakers forward Nick Young, who scored 14 points on a 5 of 8 clip.
And as a result, Nash failed to miss history.
Nash, who has compiled 10,329 career assists, remains six assists away from surpassing Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson (10,334) for third place on the NBA’s all-time assist list. The milestone appears reachable tonight considering Nash has averaged nine assists in the last three games he has played. Nash would then trail only John Stockton (15,806 assists) and Jason Kidd (12,091 assists).
“One of the best shooters in the game and one of the best passers in this game. If I was playing him when I was a little bit younger, I might have a lot of fun,” Young said. “He’s pone of the reasons why I’ve been having a couple of big games. We have a go to play we’ve been doing every day. I can see why who he is, a Hall of Famer.”
Despite the modest numbers, Nash still provided an impressive show.
He delivered multiple behind the back passes. Nash threw a swift pass off a pick-and-roll to Wesley Johnson, who drove for a three-point play. Nash threw a no-look pass to Young for an open three-pointer. Nash enthusiastically set off-ball screens to free up open shots for teammates. He defended long-time friend Dirk Nowitzki in the third quarter on a play that ended in the Dallas forward canning a mid-range jumper. Anytime Nash threw a difficult pass or a teammate missed a shot
“He’s a great leader. He knows how to be serious and joke around at the same time,” Young said. “You need to have that sometimes for young players. That can get your confidence going. When you miss a shot and wide open, he’s not yelling at you. He’s telling you to come right back. That’s big.”
So big that Nash will apparently live on to play another day, further delaying the end of his career by squeezing in some more memorable plays.
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Photos: Dallas Mavericks defeat the Los Angeles Lakers 107-95 NBA Basketball