Steve Nash now fourth in assists

Updated: February 21, 2013, 1:10 PM ET
By Dave McMenamin | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- On the night the Los Angeles Lakers honored the late Jerry Buss, the architect of "Showtime," Steve Nash passed the legendary point guard in charge of those run-and-gun teams.

With seven assists in the Lakers' 113-99 win over the Boston Celtics on Wednesday, Nash leapfrogged Magic Johnson for fourth place on the NBA's all-time assists list.

"It's crazy," Nash said. "I definitely didn't see that coming when I was 15 years old. What can I say? It's almost embarrassing. [Johnson is] an idol of mine. I grew up watching him and idolizing him and trying to emulate him. To do it here in L.A. at his franchise is definitely special."

Nash now has 10,144 assists for his career, trailing only John Stockton (15,806), Jason Kidd (12,004 and counting) and Mark Jackson (10,334).

Nash reached the mark in the 1,182nd game of his 17-season career. Johnson reached his 10,141 career total in 906 games over 13 seasons.

"I just congratulated him and he said that just means he's old," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said. "He's unbelievable. What he has done, it comes from preparation, hard work and understanding the game. He just, he did it all. And he started off playing on the bench in Phoenix for a couple years, then he went to Dallas and had a couple years of so-so, and then he just took off. To be able to play at age 39, what he's doing right now is incredible."

Nash's 11.9 points-per-game average this season is his lowest since 1999-2000, and his 7.4 assists-per-game mark is his lowest since 2002-03, but D'Antoni insisted Nash's drop-off has been a product of the Lakers' up-and-down 26-29 season, not his age.

"I don't think he's lost anything," D'Antoni said. "I know it's easy to say he's 39 and whatever; I don't see it. I just think we haven't played well and it's hurt his game."

Nash said he has blocked out any personal criticism this season.

"I hear secondhand people think I'm deteriorating," Nash said. "For me, I know better. I know it's just opportunities. I don't get a lot of opportunities in many games this year. But, for me, it's important to not worry about me and worry about what people are saying. I got to try to embrace whatever role or opportunities I do get and just keep fighting for my team, and then nights when I get opportunities like tonight [14 points on 6-for-7 shooting and seven assists], I can show what I can do.

"Other nights when I'm more standing around on the weakside, maybe people will signal the demise. But I still feel really confident. I still feel healthy. I still feel I can do what I've always done. It's just trying to conform and fit into a group that has a lot of other guys that have had success, too."

Even with his diminished numbers, Nash has reached several milestones this season, including inching past 10,000 career assists and 17,000 career points.

"That does signal me getting old," Nash said with a smile. "So, I don't get too carried away with that stuff. It's obviously a huge thrill to be up there with Magic. He's an idol of mine and somebody I admire and look up to a great deal, so that is special. I've always just been almost more embarrassed about those things and have just tried to stick to my script and get in early and work on my game and try to come out and be a great player."

Despite Nash's somewhat slight 6-foot-3, 178-pound frame, D'Antoni said his point guard's athleticism is overlooked.

"Just his mastery of the fundamentals," D'Antoni said. "He's a lot stronger and more athletic than people give him credit because you look at him and say, 'He's normal.' But he's not normal. That comes from his preparation and what he does to get ready in the offseason. How hard he worked in Phoenix was incredible. He would do two-a-days by himself a lot. To be able to put the amount of energy into it for this long period is incredible, and he deserves whatever he gets."

Nash said that while the 6-8, 215-pound Johnson (in his playing days) had a different stature, they share the same vision.

"I think we're much different physically, but I think we have the same ideas," Nash said. "We have similar mentalities. We both have a knack and a creativity to try to find angles and opportunities to get our teammates the ball, put pressure on the defense and think ahead. I think in many ways we play the game with a similar idea, but just have to do it in different ways because of our [physical] differences."

D'Antoni coached Nash with the Suns from 2004 to '08 before they reunited in L.A. this season, making him an expert on what makes the former two-time league MVP succeed.

"He feels the team," D'Antoni said. "If the ball doesn't move, if people are unhappy and the chemistry is not right, it comes out on him because he feels everything and he makes a lot of mistakes because he's trying to get guys the ball. If guys aren't in the right positions, he'll make mistakes. Because, if he goes one-on-one and tries to play an and-1 kind of game, then he is very normal or bad. We haven't played very well as a team to help his game out, but if we would do that -- keep the floor spread, keep the ball hopping -- his numbers will keep going up. I think he's a product of, if we play well, he'll play well."

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