Steve Nash climbs list despite injury
LOS ANGELES -- It has been a historically bad season for the Los Angeles Lakers, but Steve Nash managed to make a positive dent on the record books Tuesday against the Houston Rockets. Now the question is whether he'll be around to make more history in the future.
With his fifth assist of the night coming on a lead pass to Jodie Meeks for a fast-break dunk with 2:13 remaining in the second quarter, Nash moved past Mark Jackson for No. 3 on the all-time assists list, giving him 10,335 for his career.
Nash was subbed out of the game a minute later, and the 18-year veteran received a standing ovation from the Staples Center crowd as public address announcer Lawrence Tanter acknowledged the achievement.
It could very well be the last time the former two-time MVP is on the court this season -- or perhaps in his career.
Most Assists in NBA history
With five assists against the Rockets, Steve Nash moved up to third on an elite list Tuesday night.
Nash finished with three points, five assists and three rebounds in 13 minutes in the Lakers' 145-130 loss to the Rockets and did not play in the second half after suffering what he described as a "bite" in his hamstring when he tried to "open up and sprint" early in the game.
"Since I had a pretty good setback today, I probably won't play again [this season]," Nash said after the game. "But if I get a good recovery over the next week, I'd love to play again. But again, a big goal for me was to not go into the summer injured, and the fact that I had a setback today is kind of frustrating. But hopefully it's something that I can work through quickly here, and if I work through quick enough, I'd love to play again. But it's probably doubtful."
The Lakers (25-53) have four games remaining.
Nash was playing in just his 15th game of the season after being sidelined for extensive periods because of nerve root irritation in his back and hamstrings. He has one year remaining on his contract with the Lakers, set to pay him $9.7 million, but coach Mike D'Antoni expressed doubt regarding Nash's chances of returning for a 19th season.
"It's too bad everything comes to an end, and he's had a great career," D'Antoni said after the game, adding several times he felt "lucky" to have coached the eight-time All-Star in both Phoenix and L.A.
"It was great he got that tonight. You hate that he has to do it on one leg. He was literally playing on one leg tonight."
D'Antoni would not definitively draw the curtain on Nash's career, however.
"I don't think anybody, they can't tell that," D'Antoni said. "He'll try, I'm sure. A lot of it's mentally, whether he can do it mentally, because it's going to take a lot, a lot of work and some luck and then the franchise and the management and Steve will sit down and they'll make that determination."
When asked whether Nash displayed any emotion in the locker room as if it were his last game, D'Antoni said, "I don't think he's there yet at all."
Jackson, the Golden State Warriors' coach, took to Twitter to honor Nash late Tuesday night.
Congrats to the Great @SteveNash on passing me on the All Time Assist list! I'm Honored!! God Bless #4- Mark Jackson (@MarkJackson13) April 9, 2014
D'Antoni was asked before the game to talk about the significance of Nash climbing into the top three in the all-time assists list, trailing only John Stockton (15,806 assists) and Jason Kidd (12,091).
"They're all great players," D'Antoni said. "Anytime you get on any list like that -- scoring list, the assist list, rebound list -- it means you're great, and that's exactly what it means with him."
Nash joked about how long it would take him to get to No. 1.
"Stockton by next Christmas," Nash said at shootaround Tuesday morning, knowing full well the gap between him and the former Utah Jazz star. "Somewhere in there."
After accomplishing the mark, Nash reflected on his journey through the sport of basketball.
"All of this is beyond my imagination and wildest dreams," Nash said. "So to be able to share that end of the assist ladder with some players that I looked up to and emulated, and to be in their company, is phenomenal. I don't play for the records. I play because I love to play, I love to play and be a part of a team. But I guess it's something that maybe one day I'll appreciate, all hours I spent, all the extra hours I spent trying to get better."
Nash was almost unable to play long enough to set the record Tuesday.
"He came to me during a timeout and said he tweaked it and his hamstring's on fire," D'Antoni said. "And then I go, 'Well, you want out?' And he goes, 'If I come out, I might never go back in.' So, I go, 'Well, OK, so it's either the record or we'll carry you off the floor.' And that's kind of the way it went."
A little more than three weeks ago, D'Antoni said Nash's season would be shut down prematurely, but the 40-year-old point guard worked his way back into the rotation thanks in part to season-ending injuries for both Xavier Henry and Kent Bazemore.
Nash, who went into Tuesday averaging 7.1 points, 5.8 assists and 1.9 rebounds per game with 38 percent shooting from the field, received plenty of praise from his teammates after the game.
"Good things happen to good people," Nick Young said.
"It's incredible," Jordan Farmar said. "His body of work throughout his career is amazing. It speaks for itself."
Nash revealed he had extra motivation to climb up the assist ranks Tuesday. Bobby Perez, an 18-year-old cancer survivor from Atlanta, was Nash's guest at the game. Nash showed Perez, a high school basketball player, tips on the court following shootaround, and the Lakers' community relations department provided Perez and his family with courtside seats for the Rockets game.
"He flew all the way out from Atlanta, so for him to be here tonight, I wanted to get it done while he was here so he could share in it," Nash said. "I really was inspired by his fight through his chemotherapy, and I really wanted to break it with him here."