AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Mike D'Antoni stared idly out onto the court where Steve Nash was putting up jumpers at the end of practice Saturday and muttered, almost wistfully, "You know, these are the games that he never lets us lose."
He was referring to the Lakers' game against the decidedly sub-.500 Detroit Pistons, remarking that the guy who won two MVPs under his watch in their days in Phoenix together does whatever it takes to make sure his team takes care of business.
There have been very few easy games for the Lakers this season; even recent wins against cellar dwellers like New Orleans and Minnesota became nail-biters because of poor execution down the stretch.
On Sunday, Nash did his part with 11 points, 10 assists, a clutch jumper with just more than three minutes remaining to double L.A.'s lead from two to four and later a defensive rebound with 2.7 seconds left that should have sealed the game as he went to the foul line. But the man who missed two foul shots in 41 attempts all season long inexplicably went 0-for-2 from the line.
No, this was more of a survivor win as a collective unit than Nash leading them to the promised land.
It might never be as easy as D'Antoni simply having faith in Nash to rally the troops, but the Lakers simply have to win games by any means necessary these days.
If it's ugly, so be it.
How it happened: For the fourth straight game, the Lakers ran out to a double-digit lead with relative ease and for the fourth straight game, they saw that lead disappear faster than a magician's assistant. The Lakers led by as many as 18 in the third quarter, but Detroit came all the way back to tie it in the fourth. Four straight missed free throws from the Lakers in the final minute gave Detroit a chance, but Kyle Singler couldn't convert an inbounds alley-oop to Andre Drummond at the buzzer and L.A. held on.
What it means: Pau Gasol can still play like an All-Star when he's featured like an All-Star. Gasol started at center with Dwight Howard sidelined with his shoulder injury for the second straight game and filled in quite nicely, following up his 22 points, 12 rebounds and 3 blocks against Minnesota with 23 and 10 against Detroit. For a guy who has struggled to find a rhythm all season long, Gasol must be engaged over the final 34 games as L.A. tries to turn its 22-26 record into a playoff-qualifying mark.
Misses: After grabbing the defensive rebound following a frantic possession by Detroit in the final minute, Earl Clark (17 points, 10 rebounds) was put on the foul line with a chance to extend L.A.'s one-point lead to three and boinked both.
Metta World Peace was called for a flagrant foul for tying up Pistons guard Knight in a headlock in the first half. It was a charged moment at The Palace as the Detroit fans have no doubt remembered what happened when World Peace came to town with the Indiana Pacers in 2004, but thankfully, it didn't escalate from there.
Stat of the night: The Lakers had just 0.4 seconds left on the clock before halftime when Bryant connected with Clark for an inbounds alley-oop dunk that put L.A. up 62-51 heading into the locker room, bringing back fond memories of Derek Fisher vs. the San Antonio Spurs.
What's next: L.A. has gotten its road trip back on track, going 2-1 through the soft part of the seven-game jaunt. Now the Lakers travel to New York City to play the Brooklyn Nets for the first time since they moved from New Jersey, followed by a rivalry game against the leaving-it-all-out-there-without-Rajon Rondo Boston Celtics, a game in Charlotte where the Bobcats always play them tough and finish it off with a game against the defending champs in the Miami Heat.