LOS ANGELES -- There was a bit of come-full-circle nostalgia in the air when the Dallas Mavericks ran a side pick-and-roll in the third quarter Friday and the Los Angeles Lakers chose to switch their coverage to try to defend it.
The 6-foot-11 Ryan Kelly found himself on the 6-3 Devin Harris on the wing as the 7-foot Dirk Nowitzki couldn't conceal a trace of a grin as he looked down and found the 6-3 Steve Nash pressed up against his waist as he tried to guard him at the foul line extended.
It was one of those moments that would be considered too over the top if it appeared in a movie script, but there was Nash -- who actually has two documentary projects in the works these days in "NASH: The Documentary" set to be released this month and his ongoing web series "The Finish Line" with ESPN's Grantland -- face to face with the best friend he has ever made in his time as a basketball player in quite possibly the last game he would ever play as a professional.
It brought to mind something Kobe Bryant told Sports Illustrated in a story last October, "Sports have a funny way of doing s--- like that."
The old pals, who played together in Dallas -- when Nash was ages 24-29 and Nowitzki was 20-25 -- and are still so close they went to dinner together in Los Angeles on Wednesday night, were given one last chance by the basketball gods to show what they got.
And staying true to how Nowitzki has managed to capture one championship in his career as Nash remains ringless, the German one-upped the Canadian again, calmly swishing the jumper over his former teammate. There was more than their shared history, too. With 27 points, Nowitzki passed Dominique Wilkins for 11th on the all-time scoring list. With seven assists, Nash pulled to within five assists from passing Mark Jackson for third on the all-time assists list.
Nash came into the game admitting that it could be the last game he plays this season, thus leading many to speculate that it could also be the last game of the former two-time MVP's career. His shaky health and the team's option to waive him with the stretch provision this summer help fuel the speculation.
By the end of the night, after seeing Nash do his thing for 19 minutes, if you didn't know that No. 10 for the Lakers was a 40-year old who has been ravaged by nerve damage in his back and hamstrings the last two years you would say L.A. had a promising backup point guard on its roster.
Nash left the arena without speaking to reporters Friday, but his coach is making sure there will be at least one more encore performance.
"I said this is not your last game," D’Antoni relayed after the Lakers' 107-95 loss to the Mavericks. "He said, 'OK.' So, we'll play him."
There are only six games left to the Lakers season and Nash already all but ruled himself out Sunday against the Los Angeles Clippers, fearing he won't have enough recovery time to prepare himself for the early 12:30 p.m. PT tip.
He has repeatedly said he wanted to get out of the way when Jordan Farmar returns from a strained groin injury next week, preferring to give the minutes he'd play to Farmar and Kendall Marshall so they have the opportunity to prove themselves with free agency coming for each.
But D'Antoni, who first coached Nash a decade ago in Phoenix, isn't going to let Nash disappear so easily.
"He'll play," D'Antoni said. "I can play two point guards. It doesn't mean that we don't play Jordan. There's room for him out there."
Maybe D'Antoni just hasn't gotten enough of seeing Nash's nifty passes -- like the one he had in the third quarter when he drove left and then whipped a perfect delivery to the right corner where Jodie Meeks was waiting to can an open 3. Maybe he just likes feeding off Nash's energy when the 18-year veteran hands out high-fives during the game the way someone might hand out flyers on a Times Square street corner. Maybe seeing all three of Nash's shot attempts Friday -- a banked-in leaner caused by dipping his shoulder into Harris to send the Mavs guard off balance and create enough separation to shoot it; a coast-to-coast layup capped by a foray right through the center of the lane; and a left-handed skyhook that missed but was fun just for the whimsy factor with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in attendance -- made him want to see what's the next H-O-R-S-E shot Nash can work into the context of a game.
Whatever it is, D'Antoni is in no rush to see Nash go.
"If it happens, it happens," D'Antoni said before the game when asked about Nash hanging it up. "He's had an unbelievable career. He's a Hall of Famer, for sure. I've been lucky to coach him a few times, a few years. And, you know, take a good look because you're looking at one of the best point guards ever. So, it's going to be fun to watch tonight."
Just like it has been a blast for Nick Young to play with Nash.
"Being out there with Nash, I can see how he's up there with the [No. 3] best assist leader," Young said. "He's one of the best shooters in this game, too, let alone one of the best passers that ever played this game. So, if I was playing with him when he was a little bit younger, I think I would have been having a lot of fun."
The fun's not over for Nash. Not yet, at least.