Kobe Bryant scores 20 points as Steve Nash breaks the 10,000 career assist… (Pat Sullivan / Associated…)
HOUSTON — The season started with Steve Nash posing next to Dwight Howard on the cover of Sports Illustrated, the headline reading, "Now this is going to be fun."
At one point in the first quarter Tuesday, the Lakers point guard found himself on the court as part of a lineup including Robert Sacre, Jodie Meeks and Antawn Jamison that could be best described as this week's sign of the apocalypse.
It wasn't exactly anyone's idea of a good time. Except maybe the Houston Rockets'.
A night that should have been spent celebrating Nash's 10,000th career assist was instead wasted lamenting the Lakers' latest inconceivable detour, a 125-112 loss to the Rockets at the Toyota Center.
Nash became only the fifth player in NBA history to reach the five-digit assist threshold, joining John Stockton, Jason Kidd, Mark Jackson and Magic Johnson.
Yet the only figure that resonated with Nash afterward was the Lakers' 15-19 record. The future Hall of Famer who joined the Lakers in search of a championship ring conceded that he was starting to doubt whether his team could pull out of its season-long nose dive.
"I think three or four weeks ago, people would have said, 'Oh, it will get better,' " Nash said. "Right now, I definitely don't think there's a guarantee it will, so the only remedy is to continue to work hard and give yourself a chance for it to get better."
It's been a season of one low after another for Nash. He sat out 24 of the Lakers' first 26 games with a small fracture in his leg.
Nash returned Dec. 22 to help lead the Lakers to three victories in their next four games before they started their current four-game losing streak. Big men Howard, Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill all were sidelined Tuesday by injuries and won't be back for the Lakers' game Wednesday in San Antonio.
The Lakers will go into the game against the Spurs in 11th place in the Western Conference, four games out of a playoff spot. This isn't what Nash — or anyone in a Lakers uniform — had envisioned.
"We were walking out of the shoot-around [Tuesday] and we just kind of looked at each other," guard Kobe Bryant said. "I said to him, 'We thought it was going to be easier this year for us.' "
Nash tried to pick up his teammates against the Rockets, scoring 14 points in the first half on six-for-seven shooting to go with five assists as the Lakers took a 62-59 lead.
Then the Lakers reverted to playground basketball in the second half, with Nash largely an afterthought. He took only three shots after halftime, briefly returning to the locker room for treatment on his back, and finished with 16 points, 10 assists and five rebounds.
Nash tried his best to reflect on his milestone afterward. It took some effort.
"If I take a step back, it's another example of a fairy-tale career," Nash said, "but it's really hard to enjoy it right now. I don't want to discredit it, I don't want to not appreciate the company that I share in this milestone, but right now it's the furthest thing from my mind. We're just trying to find a way to win one game."
His 10,000th assist came with 19 seconds left in the first half, when he fed Jamison for a short jumper that made the forward the answer to a trivia question.
"For me to have that basket is special," Jamison said.
The moment also triggered a congratulatory tweet from Johnson, the former Lakers great who is in fourth place on the all-time list with 10,141 assists. Nash could surpass him and Jackson (10,334) by the end of this season.
Informed of Stockton's all-time leading tally of 15,806 assists, Nash, 38, conceded defeat.
"That's out," he said.
Nash's more immediate worries involve his team doing some catching up.
"I obviously think with time — and that might mean through the summer — we can get better," Nash said, "but for this season it's definitely going to be a challenge to turn this around, to find the chemistry and cohesion, to find a way for the pieces to work together, to a find a way to get back in transition defense better.
"There are a number of things we have to try to improve on to get better, but the one thing we can't accept is to take our foot off the gas and accept things. We have to continue to fight."
Even if the pieces around him make a happy outcome unlikely.