SAN ANTONIO — He was the last one to climb off the trainer’s table, trudging through the musty high school gym Monday with the pained look of a kid who had just left detention.
“It’s not great,” Steve Nash said, shaking his head. “It’s not going to be great.”
He was standing near a statue of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the most famous alumnus of the Texas Military Institute, where the Lakers were practicing between games of their first-round playoff series with the San Antonio Spurs. Nash was asked, fittingly, how his poor health has affected his “arsenal” of skills.
“ ‘Arsenal’ is probably an over-exaggeration at this point,” Nash said. “I feel like just patchwork.”
Sadly for the Lakers, that is precisely how the once-brilliant quilter looks. Instead of expertly piecing this team together, he seems to be creating as many holes as he fills. Taking the court for the first time in three weeks in Sunday’s 91-79 loss, Nash showed only scraps of his former greatness, missing layups and throwing odd passes and generally disrupting a flow that the Lakers had somehow found in their first two games without Kobe Bryant.
Less than a year after Nash’s July 4 acquisition set off fireworks — this columnist even raced home from Dodger Stadium before the fireworks started to write about it — it appears his longest season is finally dwindling to ashes. It has been more than a decade since he played in so few games — 50 in the regular season — averaged so few assists (6.7) and had so little impact.
“We’ve all fought, fought, fought, and not gotten a lot of joy out of it,” he said.
From those ashes a question arose this week that most thought would never be asked, but has become as obvious as the pain on Nash’s face. Should a 39-year-old point guard with numerous lower-body injuries really be playing as many minutes as the 29 he logged Sunday? Is there a chance that the future Hall of Famer could actually be hurting the Lakers?
There is zero chance that Coach Mike D’Antoni, who rode Nash to great success in Phoenix, would ever publicly agree.
“We’re not going to do it without him,” D’Antoni said Monday. “He’s not having the explosive stuff he has, but he’s always a threat on the perimeter. . . . He has a better shot at shooting well than anyone else I know, so we’ll take our chances.”
There is also little chance that Nash’s veteran teammates, out of respect for his two MVP awards, would publicly agree.
“We want him to be out there with his experience and his quality,” Pau Gasol said. “He’ll make shots, make the right pass; he’s not able to move as quickly as he would like, but we’ll see what we can get.”
They’ll see what they can get? Nobody is saying it, but everyone is wondering it. How much can the Lakers keep Nash on the court to undergo a very public rehabilitation in very important basketball games?
In the Lakers’ first two games without Bryant, they combined for 45 assists on 64 baskets. On Sunday, their flow was much more stunted, with 15 assists on 30 baskets.
Also in those first two games, Steve Blake owned the court with at least 23 points, five rebounds and four assists in each game. On Sunday, he scored 12 points with two rebounds and three assists.
“It’s an adjustment,” Blake said of playing alongside Nash. “But it’s nothing we can’t handle.”
Where Blake seemed to fit seamlessly into the attack, sometimes it seemed as if Nash were playing on a different team. Where Blake ran the court with confidence, Nash’s physical ailments turned him tentative. As crazy as this might have sounded a month ago, Jodie Meeks and Blake were a better combination.
Said D’Antoni of Nash: “He missed a couple of shots he would normally make in his sleep.”
Said Nash of Nash: “I have to fight through some soreness and some pain. I’m not moving as well as I’d like. I have to make the most of it.”
He has spent a career making the most of it. But now, with their season on legs as rickety as those of their future Hall of Fame guard, the Lakers have to decide whether Steve Nash’s “most” is going to be enough.