Return of Steve Nash, Pau Gasol could be gift for Lakers

Pau Gasol and Steve Nash sit on the bench during the second half during the Lakers' win over the Washington Wizards, 102-96.
(Rob Carr /Getty Images)

These could be the eight days of Christmas for the Lakers, with able-bodied stars repeatedly unwrapped along the way.

Pau Gasol appears on track to play Tuesday night against Charlotte after sitting out the previous eight games because of knee tendinitis.

Steve Nash said he hoped to return by the Lakers’ game against New York on Christmas, ending a stretch of nearly two months on the sideline because of a small break in his fibula.


“I’m starting to get excited,” Nash said, “just because I’m able to do some things.”

Gasol and Nash participated in a light practice session Monday that included the offense running plays while not being defended by anyone.

Nash reported some expected soreness after running the court for the first time since he took a knee to the leg Oct. 31. Gasol was one of the last players to leave the court, taking extra jump shots and sprinting from sideline to sideline.

Gasol said he would play against the Bobcats if he received medical clearance after the Lakers’ shootaround, even though sitting out one more game would net him an extra four days off because the Lakers don’t play again until Saturday.

“My knees are not in pain as they were,” Gasol said, “so if there’s no need to miss another game, I won’t miss another game.”

Nash could begin full-contact practices as soon as Wednesday, clearing him for a return at the earliest at Golden State on Saturday. The Lakers’ next game is on Christmas against the Knicks.

The return of Gasol and Nash may mean reduced minutes for Kobe Bryant, who has averaged 42 minutes over his last six games, but not necessarily more touches for Gasol in the post.

Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni said the 7-footer “would be good in what we do,” alluding to the up-tempo offense that relies on one post player. That would be Dwight Howard.

“You know, we can’t put 15 guys down there in the post,” D’Antoni said. “We can’t do it. It doesn’t work. Because if you’re posting him up, it means you’re not posting Dwight up and then you get criticized for not posting Dwight up.

“We play Laker basketball. That ball is shared, that ball moves, we’ll score in the first 16 seconds and then after that we’ll post people up, we’ll get people in the right spots to finish off the shot clock.”

Gasol has long talked about his desire to handle the ball more near the basket during a season in which he has averaged a career-low 12.6 points while twice being benched in the fourth quarter. Is he clear about his role upon his return?

“Still a facilitator,” Gasol said with a chuckle. “Still just giving balance to our team out there and making good decisions, whether it’s scoring, passing or penetrating.”

Is that OK with him?

“Yeah,” he said. “As long as we win, as long as it works, I’m OK with everything. When it doesn’t translate to wins, when it translates to the team struggling, then I’m not that OK with it.”

The Lakers have won their last two games without Gasol, though they are only 3-5 in his absence. He has spent much of the last two weeks conditioning and strengthening the areas around his knees to help them handle the stress of an NBA season.

“I can move around much, much better,” Gasol said. “I can push off my legs and my knees much, much better, much stronger without pain, so that’s quite an improvement. … It’s a fast-tempo game system, so I’ve got to get up and down and feel good about it.”