Friday was an odd day in Laker land, but ultimately, the Los Angeles Lakers succeeded from their failures.
First of all, the Lakers lost to the Dallas Mavericks 107-95.
The loss, in many ways, was a victory. In the big picture of this terrible losing season, every loss is a victory toward a higher pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. The Utah Jazz, currently holding the fifth-worst record in the league, beat the New Orleans Pelicans Friday night, so the Lakers moved one game closer to their closest opponents in the race to the bottom.
By the end of the night, the Lakers creeped within one game of the Jazz. The night would have meant even more in the draft race if Boston had managed a loss against the lowly Philadelphia 76ers. Somehow, the Celtics lost by nine points, so the Lakers remained stuck to sixth place in the lottery chase.
Second, the Lakers failed to provide Steve Nash with 12 assists against the Mavs, which was the number the future Hall-of-Famer needed in order to go third all-time on the assists list. Nash finished with seven assists in 18 minutes and 50 seconds on the court. He did enough on the floor to have twice as many assists as the statisticians ultimately marked down, but his teammates failed to convert open looks at the basket.
The manner in which Nash verbally picked up teammates after they missed open shots and the way he apologized to teammates for missing them on empty possessions displayed his character on the court. The 40-year-old kid was enjoying playing and leading his team on the floor. He led with encouragement and class.
As bad as Nash looked after the leg break during his first season with the Lakers, the veteran’s recent appearances have featured that special magic and quality that set him apart from the crowd during his accomplished career. Even at 40 years, he often looks like the most gifted Laker on the court.
“This may be it tonight,” Nash said on Friday morning before adding a bit of doubt. “We’ll see though, you never know.”
When the day started, the Canadian publicly shared his belief that his season would likely end because teammate Jordan Farmar was due to return on Tuesday. The Lakers, theoretically, still needed to evaluate Farmar, so Nash would sit. After Friday night’s performance, however, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni changed that plan.
“I think you’ll see him again," the coach said early into his postgame press conference. "He’ll play some more.”
“I said ‘this is not your last game, so you better get used to it.’ He said, ‘okay.’” D’Antoni recalled his conversation with Nash after the game. “So, he’ll play,” the coach added.
With that, Nash’s night transformed from thoughts about his work in the upcoming summer, his uncertain future with the Lakers and reflecting on an impressive career to a night focused on recovering for Saturday’s practice, possibly taking part in Sunday’s game, practicing on Monday and being ready to play on Tuesday night. Nash’s immediate future shifted with such ferocity that he was unable to come out and speak with reporters after the game. At last check, he was still receiving treatment, possibly with the hopes to play Sunday.
On Friday morning, playing on Sunday sounded like it was out of the question. By Friday night, the words spoken on Friday morning carried little weight.
In his next appearance, Nash should easily pass Mark Jackson's mark of 10,334 assists, but catching either Jason Kidd or John Stockton was no longer a possibility, even if Nash had another healthy 82-game season ahead.
Ultimately, the Lakers lost on Friday night, and Nash did not touch the record he deserves to hold, but the results of the loss were that the Lakers improved their standing in the draft lottery and one of the greatest point guards in the history of the game would continue performing his legendary magic for the loyal Laker fans still watching the final few games of the season.
To quote the 1992 film White Men Can’t Jump, “Sometimes when you lose, you really win.”