Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni announced Tuesday that point guard Steve Nash, who's been on the shelf since Nov. 10 with persistent nerve issues in his lower back and hamstrings, will return to the court when the Lakers take on the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center on Tuesday night. Lakers fans surely must be thrilled at the prospect of the flagging team, losers of 18 of their last 21, getting a welcome addition of new blood.
OK, well, maybe not new blood.
Nash won't be the only member of the backcourt cavalry making his return in Minneapolis. Steve Blake, who's been out since Dec. 10 after tearing a ligament in his right elbow, will also come back into the fold on Tuesday, starting the game alongside Nash in a two-point-guard alignment. Jordan Farmar will be active, too, but D'Antoni said Tuesday that he might delay Farmar's return after being limited by left hamstring tears to just four games since the beginning of December to Wednesday, when the Lakers take on the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second game of a back-to-back without Nash, who will be held out of the second game as a planned precautionary measure.
The Lakers' tentative maintenance plan for Nash's reintegration also includes careful management of his minutes on Tuesday, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com:
D'Antoni said the plan is to play the 18-year veteran the first five to eight minutes in the each half.
"Steve Nash needs to warm up and then play," D'Antoni said of the two-time league MVP, who has averaged 6.7 points on 26.1 percent shooting and 4.8 assists in just six games this season. "If we're going to get the most out of him, there's no use in him sitting over there for five to 10 minutes and then playing. We feel like we want to see [how Nash can perform]. Let's get into it. We might as well get into it now." [...]
"It is tenuous," Nash said. "I also have to get some games under my belt, hopefully, to build up the strength and confidence to protect that area. It's tenuous; I'm not going to lie. If I can get through that window there where I've put some games behind me and am no worse for the wear, then I got a chance, I think, to finish the season.
"But it's a really tricky injury, and I'm not going to take anything for granted. I'm just happy to get a chance to play tonight. And one game in the grand scheme of things is something I'm just happy to have. If I can make it two and three and four, obviously that's the best outcome."
Nash geared up for Tuesday's return with a 12-day trip north of the border to Vancouver to work with longtime trainer and physiotherapist Rick Celebrini, according to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:
Celebrini and Nash outlined in general terms the drills that ensure “postural stability.”
“You have to reinforce movement that puts the least amount of stress on the body,” Celebrini said. “If [Nash’s] leg is cast out and his foot lands in an awkward position, he will have to compensate somewhere else. But he doesn’t have the strength to do that. So it’s a matter of giving him the opportunity in terms of strength and control that positions himself to produce that movement. These are skills that involve cutting, changing directions, accelerating and landing from a jump.”
The hope, of course, is that Nash — the NBA's oldest player, who turns 40 on Friday — will be able to compensate and adjust successfully enough to remain on the court, providing some leadership, playmaking and shooting for a reeling Lakers team that has fallen to 13th place in the West at 16-31 and has struggled mightily both with and without stars Kobe Bryant (still working his way back from a left knee fracture) and Pau Gasol (sidelined by a strained right groin, in which he just got a platelet-rich plasma injection to help promote healing).
With Gasol sidelined and backup center Chris Kaman nursing a sore right knee, D'Antoni plans to go small early, with Jodie Meeks slotting in at small forward alongside floor-spacing rookie Ryan Kelly and reserve big man Robert Sacre in a makeshift starting lineup that the coach acknowledged is the result of "just kind of hunting and pecking right now," according to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times.
The reintroduction of Nash and Blake into the starting lineup means the demotion of reclamation project Kendall Marshall, whose move from lottery flameout to trade ballast to D-League grinder to NBA starter to No. 2 in the league in 3-point accuracy and assists per game has been one of the relatively few bright spots in this dismal Lakers season. D'Antoni said Marshall is "fine" and "good" with returning to a reserve role, according to Bresnahan; if Nash, Blake and Farmar are able to resume their duties with any sort of effectiveness and stay on the court, point guard might actually be the deepest position on the Lakers' roster. Things can change pretty quickly in the NBA, huh?
Another potential change on the horizon: the two-time NBA MVP's facial hair situation. Nash called the impressively grizzled red-and-gray beard he's grown during his rehabilitation "a game-time decision," but the Lakers' Twitter account appears to be proceeding under the assumption that he and his fellow returning triggermen will keep their whiskers around:
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) February 4, 2014
Here's hoping Nash hangs onto his comeback beard for a little while. I, for one, think he looks distinguished.
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