Lakers still looking for balance after Steve Nash’s return

Steve Nash finally returned, the man who was supposed to restore order and balance to the Lakers’ offense, but Kobe Bryant took 41 shots.

What’s next in this loopy season for the sub-.500 Lakers?

Bryant’s 34 points were wildly inefficient Saturday against Golden State. Put it this way: He took only five more shots when he scored 81 against Toronto in that 2006 game.

He made only 16 shots against the Warriors (not good accuracy) and took only one free throw (not really his fault) while hoisting more shots than he had in a game since January 2008.

So Nash has plenty of work to do after a seven-week layoff.

Especially with Lakers big men Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard reduced to onlookers, yet again. Gasol had nine points in 38 minutes against Golden State. Howard had 11 points in a foul-ridden 29 minutes.

Somehow, the Lakers emerged with a 118-115 overtime victory.

“I still think a lot of guys got a lot of good looks,” Nash said. “We’ll find a natural balance, but Kobe’s going to take the most shots. He’s our best player and a great scorer, and the ball should be in his hands or should be finding him for shots. I don’t think every night he’s going to take 40 shots.”

It’s hard to nitpick any victory for the Lakers (13-14), especially against the surprisingly resilient Warriors (18-10).

Their defense was lousy, but the Lakers’ reserves were solid: Jordan Hill had 14 points, Jodie Meeks had 12 and Metta World Peace had 20 as the Lakers’ new sixth man.

“We weren’t playing particularly well. I wasn’t shooting the ball well,” Bryant said. “We just said that we had to go harder. It didn’t matter what the challenge was. We just had to go harder and that’s exactly what we did.”

Nash’s impact will be felt sooner rather than later. He was nimble and unencumbered with 12 points and nine assists in 41 minutes against Golden State.

His 14-foot fadeaway put the Lakers up three with 16.9 seconds left in overtime, but his passing throughout was an obvious upgrade.

Gasol dunked a lob from Nash after rolling toward the rim on a pick-and-roll. On another play, Nash scooped up a loose ball near the arc and found Bryant open for a three-pointer. He also hit Hill on the break for a 16-footer.

“It makes me feel more sure about what we do out there when [Nash] has the ball because I know something good is going to come out of it,” Gasol said. “He’s a guy that gives you balance in the offense.”

Howard was very quiet with four-for-eight shooting, though Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni envisioned his game picking up via high-percentage pick-and-rolls and easy transition baskets.

“We want to expand Dwight’s game. We want him to become a complete player,” D’Antoni said. “He can be. He’s a very talented guy. With Steve, as soon as they develop a relationship and understand what they can do, they’ll be great.”

Saturday was Nash’s first game since sustaining a small fracture in his leg Oct. 31.

“There’s some soreness and some pain, but right now it’s OK. It’s manageable,” he said. “As long as it’s manageable, I’ll just keep going.”