For every passing moment that Steve Nash experiences issues with his health, the more and more likely the Lakers coach Byron Scott will consider diminishing his role.
Nash missed his second consecutive practice on Tuesday after playing only the first quarter of the Lakers’ preseason loss on Sunday to Golden State before asking to sit. Nash did not speak to reporters on Tuesday. But he said on Monday experienced a “sciatica problem,” which refers to discomfort in the lower back. With Nash playing only 15 games last season amid persisting nerve irrititation in his back and hamstrings, will Lakers coach Byron Scott start either Jeremy Lin or Ronnie Price instead?
“I don’t know. That is something I’m definitely thinking about it,” Scott said on Tuesday at the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo. “Is it in our best interest to start Jeremy or Ronnie or do we wait day by day, game by game? We’ll play these last five preseason games out. We’ll figure it out from there.”
The most immediate concern involves the Lakers’ playing on Thursday against the Utah Jazz in Ahaheim. Nash has not been ruled out. Lin doubts he will play after only completing spot shooting drills on Tuesday after missing Sunday’s game and Monday’s practice because of a sprained left ankle. Instead, Lin said he is “guessing” he will return Sunday when the Lakers host Utah at Staples Center.
“Whatever position he calls me to, I’ll do my best. It doesn’t change that much to me,” Lin said. “No question I want to be a starter. But it’s one of those things that game by game it changes so much.”
But what about the long term?
Scott will consider starting Nash for obvious reasons.
“He’s one of the best point guards ever to play the game,” Scott said of Nash, who won two NBA MVP awards and ranks third on the league’s all-time assists list. “His experience and knowledge of the game and the way he makes everybody out there better. Obviously if he’s out there and healthy, he makes us a better basketball team.”
But Scott will also consider Lin (the more likely candidate) or Price to preserve the 40-year-old Nash’s health. Scott also believes about Lin and Price serve as reasonable alternatives. Lin bounced back with a zero-of-six performance in the Lakers’ preseason opener last week against Denver with 14 points last week against Golden State. He has also averaged seven assists per game, while Price has averaged 10 points and 3.5 assists through two contests.
“Both of those guys are solid point guards,” Scott said. “Both of them understand how to play the game. They’re both good in a system that we run. Ronnie, on the defensive end, is a pit bull. He gets after people. Jeremy doesn’t back down as well. When you have a team that is trying to build on the defensive end, it always starts at that position.”
How that position pans out remains unclear, other than both Nash and Lin are amenable toward either role. Nash played as a reserve for five games last season because of concerns about his health.
“I have no doubt in my mind if I went to Steve tomorrow and said ‘I’m going to start Jeremy and the games you’re available we’re going to bring you off the bench,'” Scott said. “He’s such a professional that I don’t think it will be a problem whatsoever. He just wants to help the team win as much as he can. That’s not a concern of mine. But we haven’t talked about it.”
Meanwhile, Lin started 33 games last season with Houston before losing it to Patrick Beverly. Since then, Lin has cared less about starting and more about finishing after often sitting out in fourth-quarter stretches.
“I want to be on the floor in the fourth quarter. I don’t know the exact stats. But I feel like I play much better in the fourth,” Lin said. “I play better when it’s close and the game is on the line, that’s when I thrive. You just love it. As a kid you always think about hitting that shot at the buzzer or making that one game-winning play. When the game is on the line, you have a chance to do that. It’s exciting.”
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