Nash's guarded optimism mirrors team's

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
11:19
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- In recapping the Los Angeles Lakers' fervent first week of the season that included four games in six days, it's pretty hard to draw any conclusions and feel confident those same observations will ring true in a week or two.

Pau Gasol has looked re-energized from a season ago, but then again coach Mike D'Antoni benched him from the 6:29 mark of the third quarter to the 5:40 mark of the fourth quarter Sunday because he thought Gasol "lost his steam."

[+] EnlargeSteve Nash
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesSteve Nash's up-and-down start to the season seems emblematic of how things have gone for the Lakers, but not all is doom and gloom.
Xavier Henry has looked like a hidden gem, scoring 22 against the Clippers, 14 against the Warriors and 18 against the Hawks, but then again there was that 0-for-6 night against the Spurs and that wild offensive foul with 2:39 left in the fourth quarter against Atlanta in a four-point contest that could have cost L.A. the game.

The Lakers' deep rotation has looked harmonious, with all 11 players who got in against Atlanta contributing three points or more; then again after the Hawks game, Chris Kaman said, "I want to be patient but it is frustrating when you play 13, 12, 18 [minutes]. I want it to be consistent."

No, maybe the best way to make some sense of how the Lakers' 2-2 season has gone so far following their 105-103 win Sunday -- in a game they once led by 21 points -- is to compare it to how Steve Nash has developed in the early going.

Much like the Lakers, the expectations for Nash, a former two-time league MVP, have been lowered so much that there's an ever-growing faction of Lakers fans who feel like the team would be better off if the 39-year-old simply hung it up and retired. Odds are many of those same people are the ones calling for the Lakers to tank the season, already writing off any chance of success in 2013-14.

There's no arguing that Nash has been underwhelming so far. His first three games of the season went three points, five assists, three turnovers in a win; DNP; and five points (on 1-for-8 shooting), five assists and two turnovers in a loss. And in the two games he played, he wasn't on the court during the fourth quarter at all.

But then came Sunday's game. Nash had 13 points (albeit on 5-for-13 shooting), six assists, zero turnovers, one steal and perhaps, most important, played the final 7:09 of the fourth quarter as the Lakers held on to win. To put it in perspective, Jeff Teague, Atlanta's starting point guard who is 14 years Nash's junior, had 14 points, four assists and two turnovers.

"He had his best game," D'Antoni said of Nash. "Now, he can do a lot better and I think he'll tell you that. ... This is a good building block as long as he doesn't have any setbacks we can keep moving forward."

It's a strange thing for an eight-time All-Star to admit, but it was a necessary effort for a guy struggling with his confidence.

"I actually felt pretty good to start the last game and missed some shots that are my shots, but I got to my spots though," Nash said. "Tonight I felt the same thing and missed some looks that are my looks that I've always made and felt comfortable taking, so that's a good thing that I can still get there and get those shots. Hopefully my rhythm and confidence will come and I'll feel more comfortable as my body comes around."

Again, the Lakers parallel here is that the franchise has 16 championships, but you better believe getting that win against Atlanta to start the season 2-2 did wonders for how the front office feels about this team a week into the season than if L.A. had lost to fall to 1-3. Or for that matter, how the players feel about their team.

There Nash was in the fourth quarter, closing out the win after not being physically able to perform well enough to get up off the pine late in the game Friday. There were the Lakers finding a way to get the win after letting a 21-point lead disappear two days after blowing a 15-point lead and not being able to recover the victory.

"I think it's good for me, continuing to adapt to the season physically and also getting a rhythm for playing late in the game," Nash said. "In general, I think my confidence is sort of slowly coming, my rhythm in my game is coming along a little bit and hopefully my body will continue to give me some peace. We'll see if I can produce for this team."

The once-dominant point guard and once-impeccable organization are both facing doubters, question marks and a mounting list of evidence that suggests neither seem capable of replicating the standard of excellence they were known for in the past.

But they've both shown enough in this first week of the 2013-14 season that you can't count them out of it yet.

It's not a rallying cry that will sell T-shirts or inspire marketing campaigns, but things could be a lot worse in Laker Land these days after losing two franchise players -- Kobe Bryant temporarily to an Achilles injury, Dwight Howard permanently to the Houston Rockets -- in the past six months.

Dave McMenamin

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Nick Young
PTS AST STL MIN
17.9 1.5 0.7 28.3
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Hill 7.4
AssistsK. Bryant 6.3
StealsK. Bryant 1.2
BlocksW. Johnson 1.0