Steve Nash more comfortable in new role

LOS ANGELES -- Steve Nash went to get the ball because, well, Nash has always had the ball in his hands.

Midway through the first quarter Friday night, as Earl Clark picked up the ball to inbound it, Nash held up his hands as Clark looked at him and Kobe Bryant, who was holding up his hands as well. Clark ended up passing it to Nash, who immediately gave the ball to Bryant and ran down the court toward the right arc.

This is Nash's new role with the Los Angeles Lakers. He is no longer one of the league's best point guards, but rather its newest shooting guard.

Sure there are still moments when Nash will bring up the ball depending on defensive adjustments by the opposition, but more often than not, Nash is patrolling the perimeter and waiting for Bryant to get him the ball.

"It's a big adjustment for me and I am trying to embrace it," Nash said. "I'm trying to do what I can to help the team. It's not something I'm accustomed. It's been a difficult transition in some ways, but at the same time I love being here and I really want to help the team the best I can."

As much as Nash would like to have the ball in his hands, he has stepped up to the challenge of being an outside shooter for the Lakers. He had a season-high 22 points on 7-of-13 shooting, including 4-of-6 on 3-pointers in the Lakers' thrilling 118-116 overtime win over the Toronto Raptors on Friday. It's sill jarring, however, to see Nash finish a game with just two assists. Over the past seven games, Nash has scored at least 20 points three times but has averaged less than 4.0 assists in those three games.

"He's one of the best shooters in history and he's playing a little bit off the ball now," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said. "Kobe does some unbelievable things when he has the ball in his hands. It's going to be that way for a little bit. At the same time he'll get some pick-and-rolls and stuff but right now Kobe is orchestrating a lot of stuff and Steve is OK with it.

"It's not easy, but if anybody can do it, he can do it and he'll accept anything to win. That's what makes him so great."

The irony of Nash's new role is he was supposed to be the one player who would figure to have to make the fewest adjustments when the Lakers hired D'Antoni. Nash won two NBA MVP awards under D'Antoni and his system with the Phoenix Suns, and they were supposed to pick up right where they left off.

Instead, Nash has probably had to make the biggest adjustment on the team as D'Antoni was essentially forced to ditch his system in late January.

"Yeah this isn't really Mike's system," Nash said. "We're all trying to find a commonality. I think that was the idea [to play D'Antoni's system] but maybe the pieces don't fit that system like we thought they could have and we're trying to find a hybrid of options we can be effective at."

The turning point for Nash and Bryant -- and really the entire team -- was Jan. 23 when the Lakers had a team meeting and lost to the Memphis Grizzlies. Since that game, the Lakers are 15-6 and Nash and Bryant have essentially changed roles. Over the last 21 games, Nash has scored at least 10 points in all but three games but has had more than eight assists only twice.

"There was a point there in January where Kobe started really facilitating and I think that was really important for our team," Nash said. "Coming to this team we're all going to sacrifice something. It's not going to be the same where the ball's in my hands and we're running a bunch of pick-and-rolls all night and get comfortable. I have to fill the gaps and be aggressive when I can. I might go stretches where I don't get opportunities and that's OK."

The hardest adjustment for Nash, despite being one of the best shooters in the league statistically over the past 17 years, is staying in rhythm without having the ball in his hands. Nash can often be seen touching his jersey, rotating his wrist and even licking his fingers, seemingly to keep his hands busy in anticipation for the ball.

"Comfort and rhythm when you don't get reps is one thing, but for me I've really had to transition into catching and shooting," Nash said. "That's something I never did. I didn't have many catch-and-shoot opportunities the last eight years. I've had to train myself to get a rhythm for that. It sounds easier to catch-and-shoot, but it's been the opposite for me because I'm so used to shooting off the dribble. I am getting to the point where I am getting better at it and more and more comfortable."

Bryant smiled as he talked about Nash after the game, saying they both have had to adjust their game to help the Lakers make a push for the playoffs at the end of the season after a 17-25 start.

"I think we're picking up the slack for each other right now," Bryant said. "Physically, it's a little tough for him right now because it's a long season so I have to buy some time for him so he gets his legs back to where he needs to be. He can pick up for me."

Bryant then laughed as he thought about the end of the game. He had just put up 41 points and 12 assists, but he said the play of the game was Nash's tying 3-pointer in overtime that put the Lakers in position to win the game. While the Raptors focused on Nash, they left one of the league's best shooters wide open.

"It's funny because I got going there and at the end there was a two-time MVP coming off a handoff and he's a clutch shooter," Bryant said. "You can't leave him wide open and he made them pay."