FRESNO, Calif. – Steve Nash drove into the lane Sunday night, and just like in all those games from his days with the Phoenix Suns, he immediately drew a crowd. Three Golden State Warriors defenders collapsed on Nash, and suddenly, in the corner of Nash's eye, was Kobe Bryant, across the floor, wide open and waving. Nash rifled a pass to Bryant, who rose up and buried a 3-pointer.
Yes, it was just a preseason game for these new-look Los Angeles Lakers. But the first Nash-to-Bryant assist also showed all the promise that could await them this season.
"He just makes the game easy," Bryant said later of his new point guard. "It's a joy for me. I've had to facilitate and score my entire career. I don't have to do that now and I'm pretty happy about it."
In Nash's first game with the Lakers, he and Bryant looked comfortable from the opening tip. The Lakers hope their relationship only continues to improve. In previous seasons, the Lakers too often watched as Bryant dribbled out the shot clock before taking a tough, contested shot. Nash also should be able to keep L.A.'s big men happy – or at least happier than they were when the offense ran only through Bryant's hands. Bryant can now spend his energy trying to get open, knowing that if he does, Nash will find him.
Few, if any, point guards have commanded Bryant's respect the way Nash can. Bryant also knows it's in the Lakers – and his – best interest to relinquish some control of the offense.
"He's a great all-around player," Bryant said. "He just picks his spots. He can still score no matter what the defense is going to give him. If [the defense] is not going to be honest, he's going to make them pay."
Bryant said he has so much confidence in Nash that he's going to leave it to Nash to "manage the team."
"He is always going to be Kobe," said Nash, who had five points and three assists in 14 minutes in the Lakers' 110-83 loss to the Warriors. "That's just his DNA. But at the same time he's willing to relinquish a little bit for the betterment of the group."
New Lakers center Dwight Howard sat out the game as he continues to make progress in his recovery from offseason back surgery. Rookie Robert Sacre, the last pick of this year's NBA draft, started in Howard's place and scored six points. Nash zipped one pass to Sacre through a defender's legs. Nash, Lakers coach Mike Brown said, made Sacre look like a third-year pro.
If Nash can do that for Sacre, what will he do for Howard, the NBA's best center?
"Dwight is going to be eating all day," Bryant said. "[Nash] is going to put defenses in a really tough position."
Lakers fans cheered when Nash walked onto the court before the game to shoot. Only Bryant received a louder ovation during player introductions. And the game's highlight came when Nash made a 3-pointer after sending Warriors guard Jarrett Jack stumbling with a crossover dribble.
"It was awesome," Bryant said.
Judging from the way Bryant smiled whenever Nash's name was mentioned, he's looking forward to a long, successful season playing next to the Lakers' new point guard.
"It felt pretty pretty good," Nash said of playing with Bryant. "It's been less than one week. We got a long way to go. …You never know what to expect, but I felt like it wasn't bad."
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