- Dave McMenamin, ESPN Staff Writer
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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- After having San Antonio end his season several times before as a member of the Phoenix Suns, Steve Nash doesn't plan to go out without a fight when the Los Angeles Lakers face the Spurs in the first round of the playoffs this time around.
"Mentally, I'm champing at the bit and physically, I'm getting there," Nash said Friday after participating in a full practice for the first time since March, as he's missed the Lakers' past eight games with a right hip and hamstring injury. "So, I'm very optimistic that I'll be able to play on Sunday, and I just don't want to overpromise and get ahead of myself. The last three weeks now, I wake up every morning thinking, 'Today's the day,' and then I want to hang myself after practice. So, I don't want to overpromise at this point, but I'm very optimistic."
The Lakers' practice was limited to half-court drills Friday, and the team is still classifying Nash as day-to-day until it sees how the 39-year-old's body responds Saturday when the Lakers fly to San Antonio for Sunday's Game 1.
"The last two weeks, I couldn't sprint," said Nash, who received two epidurals this week to try to alleviate the pain in his right hamstring, on which he wore black kinesiology tape at practice. "There was just too much inhibition from the nerve. That was just shutting me down whenever I tried to cover some ground, so that's why I couldn't play the last few weeks. It's hard to play in an NBA game if you can't change ends of the floor. That's kind of the last little bit I'm hoping for. It's feeling pretty close, so another couple days, hopefully the epidural will continue to help and I'll be able to play on Sunday."
While the Lakers have missed Nash's 12.7 points and 6.7 assists per game, his absence coupled with the season-ending Achilles injury sustained by Kobe Bryant have allowed Steve Blake to blossom in a starting role.
Blake averaged 23.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.0 steals over the Lakers' final two games, which the team won to get into the playoffs as the No. 7 seed.
If Nash returns, it does not mean Blake will return to the bench, however. Blake said there was a "good possibility" of him remaining in the starting lineup and playing alongside Nash.
"He's been great and we've played quite a bit together this year, so I don't think it's anything new for us to be out there together," Nash said. "It could be a lot of minutes together, which is a good thing. We're a little undersized, but I think we'll both scrap and fight for our team."
Metta World Peace issued a challenge to Howard on Friday, perhaps looking to inspire the All-Star center to maintain his April averages of 20.9 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks, in which he led the Lakers to a 7-1 record down the stretch.
"Dwight being a center, great centers always win," World Peace said. "So I know Dwight has something to prove. I think the hard work he's putting in, especially with LeBron (James) being in the NBA, Dwight has to get at that level."
When asked about World Peace's comments, Howard focused on the team goal rather than individual statistics.
"I just want to win, plain and simple," said Howard, who led the team in a "One-two-three, championship!" cry when it broke its huddle after practice Friday. "I just want to win. A lot of people are counting us out and they're doubting our talent and our team, but I just want to win and I'm going to do whatever I can to help this team win. It's not about me having 30 points a night, but just me dominating the game. That's what I want to do."
Howard also wanted to promote camaraderie, organizing a team dinner for Friday night.
The get-together was just another example of how much things have turned around for the Lakers since they started off the season 18-25. They've since gone 28-12, and despite Bryant's absence, they are on the verge of getting back Nash and even could have Jordan Hill available in the near future.
Hill practiced Friday but has not yet been cleared for contact or full-court drills as he continues to recover from hip surgery that's kept him out of the lineup since Jan. 5.
"I think always adversity can break you or make you," said Gasol, who has averaged 17.5 points, 12.1 boards, 6.6 assists and 1.3 blocks on 51.3 percent shooting in April. "I think this team has really come together during this last stretch where we had our backs against the wall and our life has been on the line pretty much every time.
"So, I think we're in a good place right now. We start off a new season, so everything that has happened is behind us. We look forward to this opportunity and a big challenge against the Spurs."
4dSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann