It wasn’t a coincidence that the Lakers played their best game of the year when Steve Nash returned to the starting lineup after missing the last 24 games. It was the best game that the Lakers played all season, and easily it was the most entertaining. With a sub .500 record every win was important, but this is the Lakers first meaningful win of the season.
Can Steve Nash really save the Lakers? Could a 38 year old point guard, returning to a team he only played 2 previous games with, who plays suspect defense be a solution? The general consensus from the talk around the league the last 2 weeks was no. He easily could be an added difficulty, not a solution. And how could just one guy be the solution to the problem of a bad team?
But Nash showed Saturday night why he’s a 2 time MVP, compared to Kobe who only won that award once—he makes the whole team better. Nash is a great player, but the positive influence he brings to his teammates is his most powerful attribute. That is hardly Kobe’s strong suit despite his 5 rings. Nash empowers the team, but combined with Kobe’s heroic, solo efforts that carry the team, it could be a pretty powerful combination.
The upgrade at point guard was an astounding difference as well Saturday. Nash is a threat to shoot a high percentage even though he didn’t look to shoot much. Chris Duhon doesn’t hurt the Lakers, but he doesn’t add anything. Nash adds to everyone’s game.
The Lakers were a frustrating and painful team to watch in almost every game of this young season. When the Lakers were 14 points down to the Warriors late in the 2nd half Saturday, the effects on the viewer from this visual were similar. But the bench made outstanding contributions. They brought the game back to within 4 as Kobe sat on the bench. Bench player in name only, Metta World Peace was disruptive and effective, Jordan Hill was a monster on the offensive glass, and Jodie Meeks hit a big 3 down the stretch. They combined for 46 points.
Both the entertaining style of play and thrilling and positive results of the overtime game in the Bay are the first signs from this team that owner Jim Buss had an opportunity to take any satisfaction from. After passing on Phil Jackson to go in the direction of a Re-scripted Showtime, this game is the first glimpse of validating a decision which has been crushed and questioned. Lakers fans have Phil Jackson on the top of their Christmas wish lists. Jim Buss must be childishly wearing his “I told you so face” after this overtime win, in the Lakers first overtime game of the season.
After winning 3 straight against draft lottery competition, its tempting to label this win as meaningless. Wipe that smile off Jim Buss, it’s the Warriors. But give Mark Jackson and especially GM Bob Myers a lot of credit because the Warriors are a good team. After ditching the awkward combo of Monta Ellis and Steph Curry, the Warriors are deep, athletic, and can shoot. If the shots continue to fall, the Lakers are going to be seeded behind the team moving to The City heading into the playoffs.
The Lakers played with a higher focus Saturday. Now that they’ve come to grips that the world wasn’t going to end on Friday, they returned their focus to basketball. Steve Nash returning to the court is obviously a good omen for the team. The Lakers were 12-12 without Nash on the court, and their with-Nash record has climbed to 1-2. Next up on Christmas Day at 3pm the full complement of Lakers should be available to erase their embarrassing loss in Madison Square Garden.