The depleted Los Angeles Lakers received a boost Tuesday when Steve Nash and Steve Blake returned to the starting lineup against Minnesota.
Yes, Pau Gasol was out, resting his strained right groin after trying to play through the last few games. He probably won't return until after the all-star break. Kobe Bryant, of course, isn't ready yet because of persistent pain and swelling in his left knee.
But there was Nash on the court for the first time since Nov. 10, the nerve problem in his back healed enough for the Lakers to clear him for limited playing time. Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni said before the game that Nash would be limited to the first eight minutes of each half.
The Lakers play at Cleveland on Wednesday, and Nash won't take part in that one. The team will be overly cautious with him and back-to-back games the rest of the season.
Nash, a Victoria native, turns 40 on Friday. He told reporters after the morning shootaround that he's anxious about how his back will hold up.
"It's a really tricky injury," Nash said. "I'm not going to take anything for granted.
"I'm just happy to get a chance to play."
Blake was in action for the first time since Dec. 10. He's been out with a torn ligament in his right elbow. Fellow point guard Jordan Farmar, who hasn't played since Dec. 31 due to a torn left hamstring, has been cleared to return, too. D'Antoni said his plan was to hold him out against the Timberwolves and play him against the Cavaliers, to compensate for Nash being back on the bench.
Even with the presence of two key players, the bad luck popped up again for the reeling Lakers. Shooting guard Jodie Meeks, the rare player on the roster who has yet to miss a game this season, sprained his right ankle in the first quarter. Then power forward Jordan Hill departed in the second quarter due to a headache and cervical strain around the neck. The Lakers said neither of them would return to the game.
Nash actually re-entered the game in the second quarter, already straying from D'Antoni's previously announced plan.
Before the game, the coach expressed the same apprehension about the veteran point guard that Nash did himself.
"Anybody who hasn't played very much in 10 months is going to have some rough spots," D'Antoni said. "We'll just have to see.
"When the lights go on, it'll be a little different than practice. So his smarts might carry him through; maybe his legs won't, I don't know.
"I'm kind of anxious to see it, see what he can do. I know he's put a lot of work into it and he wants to play."