Lakers hopeful Nash can push the right buttons upon his return
AP Photo - Gus Ruelas
Los Angeles Lakers guard Steve Nash, right, looks at Utah Jazz guard Mo Williams, left, as he brings the ball up court in the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game, Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012, in Los Angeles.
Two Canadian products are about to share a similar assignment in the coming weeks. We speak, of course, of Steve Nash and the Blackberry 10.
All the Blackberry 10 has to do after its scheduled Jan. 30 release is make the Canadian-based Research in Motion a relevant player again in mobile technology. All Nash has to do when he returns from injury is make the Los Angeles Lakers relevant again.
We’ll have to wait on the Blackberry 10. Nash’s re-entry, after playing a game and a half this season because of a small fracture in his left leg, will come sooner. There are reports Nash may return to the Lakers on Dec. 16 but given his slow recovery, that is hardly definite.
Plenty has happened in Lakerland during that recovery. The Lakers fired their coach, Mike Brown, after five games, dallied with former coach Phil Jackson over the job, ultimately signing Mike D’Antoni, the former coach of the Phoenix Suns and the New York Knicks. D’Antoni, though, couldn’t join the team on the bench right away because he was recovering from knee surgery.
Oh yeah, the Lakers are 9-10 and looking decidedly mediocre for a team that has $100 million (US) committed in player payroll and was picked by many, including this typist, to challenge for the NBA title. Steve Blake, the backup to Nash, is out six to eight weeks with a torn abdominal muscle, meaning the Lakers have a new coach trying to install a new offensive scheme being run by the Plan C point guard. And you thought RIM was in trouble.
This is why Nash’s return is the next critical juncture for the Lakers. The reasoning is sound. Nash ran D’Antoni’s high-octane offence with the Suns and rarely has a coach and his point guard been more simpatico. In Phoenix, D’Antoni wanted shots, shots and more shots, the now-famous mantra being an attempt in “seven seconds or less.” Nash was only too happy to accommodate that style, serving as a free-flowing floor leader, never at rest, constantly probing and poking the opposition’s defence. During his cameo under Brown, there was criticism the ball wasn’t in Nash’s hands enough. You won’t hear that when Nash and D’Antoni reunite.
At his introductory press conference, D’Antoni said if the Lakers aren’t averaging between 110 and 115 points a game, then “we need to talk.” The Lakers, who are 4-5 under D’Antoni heading into Friday’s game at Oklahoma City against the Western Conference champion Thunder, are averaging 101 points a game, so those conversations have started.
Some of the chat will focus on how to resurrect forward Pau Gasol. Under D’Antoni, Gasol’s minutes are down, his production is way down (about eight points a game) and he has been benched in key moments. Teammate Kobe Bryant publicly admonished Gasol, telling him to “put your big boy pants on; adjust.”
Bryant himself could become something of an issue. He tends to take on too much in some games, calling his own number as a take-charge measure. It doesn’t help; the Lakers are 1-7 this season when he has scored 30 or more points. Working Bryant into the flow consistently without disrupting it will be one of Nash’s immediate challenges.
A more clear-cut problem is Dwight Howard’s putrid ability at shooting free throws. A career 58.8 per cent free-throw shooter -- nothing to brag about -- Howard has dropped to 46.9 per cent this season. Teams are noticing, too. The Houston Rockets overhauled a 13-point deficit to beat the Lakers on Tuesday, in part by intentionally fouling Howard, waiting for him to miss, then scoring themselves. Howard has been working on his free throws with assistant coach Chuck Person, who shot 72 per cent from the line as a player, but the lessons haven’t shown up yet in games.
Nash won’t be able to repair these problems all by himself. But he will give the Lakers the best chance of operating D’Antoni’s system the way it was designed to be run. At this point, that is all either man can ask of the other.