Nash loss tugs at Lakers' heartstrings

LOS ANGELES -- Someday, it might be appropriate to look back at the past four days of the Los Angeles Lakers' existence -- from playing Dwight Howard as an opponent Thursday to seeing Steve Nash being shut down because of back problems Sunday -- as the official death of the dream hatched in summer 2012 to get back to being a championship contender before Kobe Bryant's career came to a close.

But today is not that day.

Now is the time to simply appreciate what Nash -- a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer, the greatest basketball player to come out of Canada, a player who ranks No. 1 in career free throw percentage, No. 4 in total assists and No. 8 in 3-point accuracy in NBA history -- is going through as he sees the end of his splendid career coming at him like a freight train going full speed.

And it's also time to realize the impact of what Nash's struggle has meant to his teammates, who see Nash, the league's senior statesman at 39 years old, push himself daily to try to stay relevant in a game filled with budding stars who are, in some cases, literally half his age.

Nash tried the best he could Sunday in the Lakers' 113-90 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. He added three assists in 13 minutes to that impressive career total of his. He made both free throws he attempted, a subtle reminder of his status above Mark Price atop the free throw list. He pointed to Pau Gasol in recognition of the big man's pass that found Nash in rhythm behind the 3-point arc on a fast break, and, even though he missed the shot, he chose to acknowledge the virtue of the feed of a teammate rather than wallow in the result of his own failed attempt.

But it wasn't working. Nash couldn't move the way he is accustomed to. He couldn't get his body to cut as fast as his mind was seeing the seams in the defense he has been exploiting for the past 18 seasons. He couldn't help the Lakers stop the Wolves and their 23-year-old floor general, Ricky Rubio, who was en route to a 12-point, 10-rebound, 14-assist, 5-steal triple-double and looked like the type of all-around team player Nash was when he won back-to-back MVPs.

Mike D'Antoni, like a corner man who couldn't bear to see his fighter take another punch, put a stop to it. D'Antoni, who has coached the point guard off and on for the past decade since Nash was a 29-year-old in his prime with the Phoenix Suns, just had to look at Nash and know.

"I'm concerned," D'Antoni said. "He was struggling physically tonight. You could just see it on his face. That's why I took him out and we shut him down, more or less.

"I just see his face. I've known him forever, and when he looks like that, he's trying to battle through something and just couldn't do it."

Nash didn't want to concede to his injuries because there was still a game to be played. The competitor in him wasn't ready to give up.

"That was probably foolish on my part that I didn’t [ask out]," Nash said. "But you don’t want to leave a game when you’re getting it handed to you. You want to try to stick [it through]."

Nash walked out of the arena Sunday night knowing he has an appointment to see a back specialist Monday, but having no idea when he'll next get to lace up his sneakers for a game, or if he'll ever get to feel some semblance of the player he once was.

"I’m a little emotional," Nash said. "It’s hard. I really want to play and I really want to play the way I am accustomed to playing. To be so limited is frustrating and also to not know where kind of a cleanish bill of health is [coming from] is a little daunting, too."

No matter that Nash is averaging only 6.7 points and 4.8 assists this season. The thought of not having him out there is daunting for his teammates as well.

"I appreciate his effort and his determination to play through the pain," said Steve Blake, who will be called on to pick up the slack at the point in Nash's absence. "So I love him for it."

Said Gasol: "It’s upsetting that he’s going through this type of injury again. I’m concerned because he’s my teammate. He’s a guy that can really help us because we need guys that can create shots for other people and make it easy for other guys. He’s a great playmaker, but unfortunately, if you’re not healthy, no matter who you are, you’re not going to be able to do what you do."

Perhaps the most sobering reaction came from Jodie Meeks, who started the second half in place of Nash in the backcourt.

"Steve’s a professional," Meeks said. "He’s had a great career ..."

They'll all hate the day they have to start talking about Nash's career as something that is fully in the past.