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Underdog Lakers may try Steve Nash with Steve Blake in backcourt

Nash 'very optimistic' he can play in playoff opener, but if he teams with Blake it could create a question on defense.

April 19, 2013|By Mike Bresnahan

The Lakers just beat the San Antonio Spurs last Sunday and played them closely in two losses earlier this season.

Nobody seems to care.

Try finding somebody — anybody — not wearing purple and gold who would pick the Lakers to win this first-round playoff series.

Oddsmakers certainly don't like them, making the Spurs decisive favorites, as most second-seeded teams are against seventh-seeded teams.

MGM Resorts International has the Lakers as 51/2 to 1 underdogs. Gambling website Bovada has them as 6 to 1 going into Sunday's series opener in San Antonio.

It could be worse. The Milwaukee Bucks are 75 to 1 longshots to beat Miami in their best-of-seven series, Bovada said.

Doubters? Haters?

"A lot of people are counting us out," Lakers center Dwight Howard said Friday. "They're doubting our talent on our team. I'm going to do whatever I can to help this team win."

Without Kobe Bryant, the Lakers will need a lot of help from a lot of people.

They already tried a shooting guard at point guard (Bryant), which then turned a point guard into a shooting guard (Steve Nash), so why not concoct some other unorthodox backcourt combination?

The Lakers were leaning toward starting Nash and Steve Blake in the same backcourt against the Spurs, which could happen because a) Blake has been incredible lately, scoring 47 points over his last two games; and b) Nash finally practiced Friday after sitting out three weeks because of a complicated nerve injury.

Question to Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni: Why not?

Of course, it's all predicated on Nash still being healthy by the time Sunday rolls around.

He said he was "very optimistic" about his chances after sitting out eight consecutive games. But there's a catch.

"I just don't want to over-promise and get ahead of myself," Nash said. "It's almost three weeks now. I wake up every morning thinking today's the day and then want to hang myself after practice.

"The last two weeks I couldn't sprint. It's hard to play in an NBA game if you can't change ends of the floor."

Nash received epidural injections Tuesday for a nerve in his back that was causing irritation and contributing to pain and weakness in his right hamstring.

D'Antoni declined to comment on a Blake-Nash backcourt, but Nash said he would endorse it. Jodie Meeks would go back to the bench.

The problem with the Nash-Blake alignment is the size — they're each 6 feet 3, meaning one of them will have to guard San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard, who is 6 feet 7, or Danny Green, who is 6 feet 6. Neither Leonard nor Green are known for their post-up games, but they'll be able to get off shots without trouble against Nash or Blake.

Blake would obviously welcome Nash's return despite never scoring this many points in consecutive games in his 10-year career.

"He looks really good, shooting the ball well, looked like he was moving well," Blake said after Friday's practice. "I was glad to see him out there again."

Nash hasn't played since logging two minutes in a March 30 game against Sacramento. The Lakers went 7-1 without him.

Hill progressing

Reserve forward-center Jordan Hill practiced with limitations Friday but would not play in the Lakers' first-round series, a team spokesman said.

Hill was limited to only half-court action and was not cleared for full contact.

He hasn't played since Jan. 6 and had surgery Jan. 23 to repair a torn labrum in his hip. At the time, the Lakers said he would miss the rest of the season and requested from the NBA and received a disabled-player exception, though they did not use it before it expired.

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

twitter.com/Mike_Bresnahan

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