Steve Nash has missed 19 games due to a fractured fibula, and the Lakers have looked terrible in his absence. But tabbing him as a hero lying in wait is dangerous ground, and the Lakers are walking that fine line every time they mention his name.
The Los Angeles Lakers are a complete mess at 9-12, and they are displaying their ever-present flair for the dramatic in the process. No one loses like the 2012-13 Lakers, and it's got the entire town in panic mode. Enter Steve Nash, the Lakers' newly-acquired point guard and former two-time NBA MVP who has played just two games while donning the purple and gold due to a leg fracture suffered against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Since then, things have gone all wrong, and Los Angeles has been through a season's worth of drama in the span of just over a month amidst a coaching change, personnel issues and problems on both ends of the floor.
Head coach Mike D'Antoni said that things would improve when Nash returned following a Nov. 29 practice:
"We've got to get him back -- both Steves (Nash and Steve Blake). Even in Phoenix when he went out, we had trouble hitting 100 points."
Ironically, he was speaking about the offense back when the Lakers were struggling to put points on the board. But the Lakers have broken down defensively since then. Now, it's their most glaring issue. They are giving up 98.7 points per game through 21 games, and rank 18th in that respect. They're scoring enough to win more than they have, averaging an NBA seventh-best 101.8 points per game over that same stretch.
It's bad rhetoric to look at one player, even one like Nash known for making entire teams better, as the solution to the grave issues that plague any team. These Lakers, though, are an anomaly, and they're especially puzzling. It's also not fair to Nash to put the onus on him to rescue them as he will undoubtedly feel more pressure to come back quicker, maybe even sooner than he's really ready.
The Lakers have enough talent without Nash to be among the best teams in the Western Conference. Without him, they've looked like one of the worst.
It would be fitting for a Hollywood script if Nash came back, cape in tow, and managed to save the Lakers' season. But when reality sets in, the Lakers will have a marginally better offense and will have cut down on a few turnovers while the defensive issues remain.
About those turnovers -- they've been creating far too many opportunities for opposing teams. In the last game against the Utah Jazz at Staples Center, the Lakers gave up 19 fast-break points and 54 points in the paint. The only thing Nash can do to alleviate those kinds of ridiculous numbers is to take better care of the basketball. L.A. is 30th in the league with 343 giveaways.
What it all comes down to is that the Lakers have lacked effort, and if Nash can somehow pass that along to his teammates by being on the floor, then so be it. But he can't solve the Lakers' lack of team speed, youth and athleticism. Aside from actually trying hard to play good defense, those are the aspects that are hurting the Lakers.
Unfortunately, they are also areas that Nash can't do anything to take the the burden off his new teammates. The Lakers will have to look at themselves as individuals to fix their broken defense.
You can contact Michael C. Jones on Twitter @MikeJonesTweets