Lakers’ Gasol, Nash both practice, eye return
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Lakers guard Steve Nash, who hasn’t played since fracturing his leg on Halloween, is hoping to return Saturday against Golden State barring a setback in practice this week, a league source told ESPNLosAngeles.com.
“That’s the plan,” the source said. On Monday, a source labeled Nash returning on Saturday as “50-50.”
It’s been two weeks, it’s been a while. I miss playing and I miss being out there and competing with my team. My knees are not in pain as they were. So if there’s no need to miss another game, I won’t miss another game.
— Lakers forward Pau Gasol
Nash and forward Pau Gasol returned to practice on Monday. Gasol, who has been out for close to two weeks to rest tendinitis in both knees, also appears close to returning to game action. On Monday he said he would play Tuesday night against the Charlotte Bobcats if he feels good after the Lakers’ morning shootaround.
Nash has been out for six weeks with a nondisplaced fracture in his left leg. He said Monday that he’s hopeful to “play by Christmas” if his leg responds well to the increased activity and he’s able to get back into game shape.
The optimism of their imminent returns comes at a time when the struggling Lakers (11-14) sit 12th in a Western Conference they were expected to dominate. They finished a four-game road trip with wins in Washington on Friday and Sunday in Philadelphia.
“It’s been two weeks, it’s been a while. I miss playing and I miss being out there and competing with my team,” Gasol said. “My knees are not in pain as they were. So if there’s no need to miss another game, I won’t miss another game.”
It’s been a lot longer for Nash; this is the longest absence of his career due to injury. And while he’s a bit further away than Gasol, he was just as excited to finally get back on the court, even in a limited capacity. The Lakers did only defensive drills and 5-on-0 scrimmaging with no contact on Monday.
“It’s starting to get exciting just because I’m able to do some things,” Nash said. “The majority of the last six weeks have been pretty inactive. So it’s nice to be able to get out there with the guys and just see some light at the end of the tunnel.
“It’s definitely sore and it’s definitely going to be a process — not just to get back to complete health but also to get back into shape. But I have to take what I can get. To be on the court sweating and playing and just working on my game a bit is important to me.”
Just how Gasol and Nash will impact the Lakers once they come back remains to be seen. The 7-foot Spaniard struggled mightily under new coach Mike D’Antoni’s up-tempo system before his injury. In the interim, there has been endless debate both within the organization and outside it as to how he should be used in the system, and whether he can ultimately fit in.
Last week, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said that he’d spoken to D’Antoni about how best to use Gasol.
“Pau needs to be in the post more, for sure,” Bryant told Stephen A. Smith. “We (Bryant and D’Antoni) spoke about that. When he gets back, he’ll be in his sweet spots for sure.”
Monday afternoon, though, it didn’t sound like a radical change was afoot.
“We play a certain type of basketball,” D’Antoni said. “We’ll try to get to guys’ strengths and figure those out, but basically he’s going to be good in what we do, I know that.”
Asked if Gasol would get more touches in the post, D’Antoni said: “Everybody wants everybody in the post. We can’t put 15 guys there in the post. We can’t do it. It doesn’t work. Because if you’re posting him, that means you’re not posting Dwight (Howard). Then you get criticized for not posting Dwight.
“We play Laker basketball. That ball is shared, that ball moves, we’ll score in the first 16 seconds, then after that we’ll post people up, we’ll get people in their right spots to finish off a shot. It’s a little crazy about some of the stuff that’s being said. But other than that, we’re good. We’re moving forward, (Gasol) is good at what he’s good at, and we’ll exploit it.”
Gasol concurred, saying that he’d “still be a facilitator” when he came back.
“As long as we win, as long as it works, I’m OK with everything,” he said. “When it doesn’t translate to wins, or the team is struggling, then I’m not that OK with it. But we’ll see. We’re still learning things here and there.”
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Gasol said he thought playing without pain in his knees and the extra conditioning he’s been able to do the past two weeks would help smooth things out as well.
“It helped quite a bit. Not just the rest but the work that we did strengthening everything around it to make sure they don’t have to take as much load,” Gasol said. “I can move around the court much better. I can push off from my legs and my knees much better, much stronger, without pain, so that’s quite an improvement.”
Still, it’s going to be hard to evaluate Gasol’s role on the team, and really even the team as a whole, until Nash comes back to run the offense that twice made him the league’s most valuable player in Phoenix.
Can he really be the savior?
“I don’t really see it that way,” Nash said. “The team is still forming. We didn’t have a training camp under Coach and now we’re playing 180-degree different style offensively. So we’re still in an adjustment period. I think the team still needs time to find itself with or without me.
“Hopefully I can help, but it’s a process we all have to stay the course with and hopefully we’ll get better as time goes on.”