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Monday, December 24, 2012
Lakers are starting over again

By Ramona Shelburne
ESPNLA.com

OK, Lakers season for the ages ... Take 2.

The plotline is the same: Four future Hall of Famers, all with something to prove, join together in pursuit of an NBA championship that will define their legacies. They are older than their rivals in Oklahoma City and Miami, and yes, slower. But it is their wisdom that will give them the edge.

Or so the story was supposed to go.

Instead ... well, everything that's happened thus far in the Lakers' season has been something of an "instead." But if we're keeping this movie metaphor up, the director (Mike Brown) has been fired, it took two weeks for the new guy (Mike D'Antoni) to take over the production, one of the leading men (Steve Nash) was unavailable to shoot any of his scenes for weeks, and the whole thing has gone wildly over budget.

Steve Nash
In his first few games back, Steve Nash will have to gear up for the season all over again.

There are some studios in Hollywood that would shelve such a disaster and write off their losses.

The Lakers? They've decided to rush the movie through final edits for a Christmas release!

"Obviously we've been through two months of season -- and there's been a lot going on during those two months," Pau Gasol said with a droll laugh. "But it does feel good to have Steve back and just get everybody healthy."

Nash is finally back. D'Antoni is walking without a pronounced limp anymore. The players have unlearned Brown's Princeton offense enough to pick up what D'Antoni wants them to do.

It's still a little weird, but people in Los Angeles learned to live with weird a long time ago.

So just like last year, when the NBA season began on Christmas Day, the Lakers are now finally ready to roll.

"For me, yeah," Nash said when asked if this Christmas Day game against the New York Knicks felt like a fresh start to the season. "This is my preseason right now. Especially with a new coach, it can kind of wash away the first preseason. Seven weeks off, this is it.

"Hopefully it's onward from here."

Now, if only they could pretend the first two months never happened. Or at least didn't count in the standings?

"It's not like we're starting over," Gasol conceded. "We've had to make a lot of adjustments during the season and do a lot of learning new things while at the same time trying to play as well as possible.

"It hasn't worked out some times. Maybe most times, because we've lost more games than we've won, right?"

Right. The Lakers enter Tuesday's game against the Knicks with a 13-14 record, their worst 27-game record since the 2002-03 season (also known as the season Shaquille O'Neal sat out the first 30 games to recover from surgery on ''company time") when they opened up 10-17.

Even with this modest four-game winning streak, they sit 11th in the Western Conference, having already played what should have been the easy part of their schedule.

Bummer.

Then again, there's that Nash guy. D'Antoni's been talking about how excited he is to put his offense back in Nash's capable hands since the day he got here.

"He's the best at it," D'Antoni said. "Not taking anything away from anyone else, but when you're the best at something, it's going to run smoothly. Confidence builds up and you realize, 'Oh, that's why he wants me in that position,' and then it works and it becomes a lot easier."

How important is Nash to a D'Antoni-coached team? According to ESPN Stats and Information, D'Antoni has a .734 career win percentage in games in which Nash has played compared to a .387 win percentage without him.

It's why when I asked him if he ever thought he'd get a second chance to coach Nash again, after leaving the Phoenix Suns to coach the Knicks in 2008, D'Antoni very honestly said:

"I shouldn't have gone to New York. I should have stuck in there and battled. You don't get to coach somebody like him [Nash] too many times. It's pretty sacred and you need to take care of it. I didn't."

That quote (which was part of this story) flew around New York City like wildfire, but only the part about regretting his decision to go to New York seemed to register in people's minds, even though the rest of the quote -- and the rest of story, for D'Antoni and for these Lakers -- was about Nash and what he brings to every team he plays for.

But that's life in the big city. And just another bit of intrigue to this matchup, which is somehow only the second time the Knicks and Lakers have played on Christmas Day.

So here goes nothing.

Will it be the start of something good?

"I hope it's a turning point," D'Antoni joked. "Because we're not very good right now. Something better turn."