Steve Nash dribbles up the court in his first game back since injuring his… (Ezra Shaw / Getty Images )
The Lakers weren't able to play comfortably against the Golden State Warriors on Saturday night until late in the game when Coach Mike D'Antoni chose to let Dwight Howard play with five fouls.
Once the Lakers actually had their core of Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol and Howard on the floor together, the D'Antoni offense started to click.
Nash ran the pick and roll often with Howard, who typically set his screen high, often above the three-point line. On Nash's passes to a rolling Howard, defenders would be forced to leave the corners open where Bryant and World Peace were set. Both hit big, wide-open shots as a result. Howard finished with just three assists, but the passes were there even if the attempts didn't fall.
Gasol and Nash also ran plays together, with Gasol setting up above the elbow, again with Bryant and World Peace in the corners. Howard would set up a little bit lower, on the weak-side elbow. After the pass, Nash would step across the free-throw line into the paint and either screen off Howard's defender or turn to the corner and get in the way of Bryant's man.
Gasol would hold the ball and wait for a target. Nash's screen on Festus Ezeli set up a perfect lob opportunity, but Howard fumbled the pass.
Nash's screen on Klay Thompson gave Bryant a two-step lead, but Howard was impatient or confused. Instead of diving to the basket, he tried to set a second screen for Bryant right next to Gasol. That left Ezeli right in the middle of the paint, cutting off Bryant's penetration and breaking what was an otherwise well-executed play.
For the game-winning shot, the Warriors stuck with the corner shooters and big men, which left Nash enough space to take a fadeaway jumper with 16.9 seconds left.
The only true Bryant isolation plays in overtime came from quick offense when Nash and Bryant had beaten both Gasol and Howard up the floor. On one, he nailed a jumper over Thompson. Another saw Bryant, while matched up against Jarrett Jack, slip and fall. He got up without losing his dribble and scored anyway.
Defensively the Lakers need to improve in the half court, but they got enough stops to barely beat the Warriors. Defense might take a little longer than the offense, which seemed ahead of schedule given how long Nash had been off.
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Email Eric Pincus at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.