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BEN BOLCH / ON THE NBA

Lakers' Steve Nash confronts age-old issue: His body's breaking down

NBA's oldest player is forced out by injury again in Lakers' loss to Utah, and it's worth asking if Nash, 40, should try to keep going.

February 11, 2014|By Ben Bolch
  • Steve Nash did not return for the second half of Tuesday's loss to the Utah Jazz, 96-79, because of discomfort in his leg and back.
Steve Nash did not return for the second half of Tuesday's loss to the… (Danny Moloshok / Associated…)

The oldest player in the NBA isn't worried about staying in front of quicker counterparts or piling up assists or leading his team to the playoffs.

Steve Nash just wants his body to cooperate so he can get through a game.

It was too much to ask again Tuesday night, the Lakers point guard departing prematurely because of discomfort in his leg and back.

He was done at halftime after 17 unremarkable minutes, leading one to wonder just how many are left on the odometer of a 40-year-old who continues to creak his way toward the Hall of Fame.

It was also enough to make one question whether he should even bother coming back.

For all of Nash's past greatness, his body of work with the Lakers has included more MRIs than memorable moments. He has appeared in only 60 of a possible 134 games after his abbreviated stint at Staples Center during the Lakers' 96-79 loss to the Utah Jazz.

There has been the broken leg and the stiff neck and the balky ankle and the painful hip and the weak hamstring and, most recently, the sore back and the irritated knee that forced him out of a game early Sunday against the Chicago Bulls. Nash's body has been poked and prodded more than the cardboard man in the Operation board game.

None of this is Nash's fault, of course.

But can the Lakers really afford to go into another season with the daily worry of whether their starting point guard can even play, much less keep up with the likes of Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard?

Nash told The Times he felt his symptoms flare up while shooting before Tuesday's game but tried to play through them. He said the nerve damage in his back produces a tight sensation in his hamstring.

"I didn't think I was [sound enough] to play but we had so few guys," said Nash, who was held out in the second half as a precaution. "I think it's a minor setback."

Nash said he would probably sit out the Lakers' game against Oklahoma City on Thursday before trying to return after the All-Star break.

It's almost painful to remember that Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak once jokingly asked Nash if he was going to make the executive look bad for giving him a third year on his contract.

No one could have imagined the first and second years would largely be washouts for a player who was still productive at 37 in his final season with the Phoenix Suns.

"Some days it sucks," Nash admitted earlier in the day at the Lakers' shoot-around. "But other days, you feel great and you have a good session or a good game and it's all worth it."

Those days have been fleeting this season, like an L.A. rainstorm. There was the 19-point, five-assist outburst last week against Philadelphia and . . . that's about it. In both other games this season in which Nash reached double-figure scoring, he missed more than half his shots. He has not logged double figures in assists once.

The most meaningful number Nash has put up is 10, the number of games in which he's appeared. That officially erased the possibility of the Lakers' wiping his $9.7-million salary off their cap for next season if he had to retire for medical reasons.

The Lakers still have an out of sorts. They can waive him via the NBA's so-called stretch provision by Sept. 1, allowing them to spread his salary over the next three seasons. But they might want to keep him so they can expunge his salary by the time premier free agents become available, such as Kevin Love in 2015 and Kevin Durant in 2016.

Nash wasn't ready to call it quits earlier in the day at the shoot-around.

"Basically, I've worked out twice a day for 10 months just so I can try to get back on the floor," he said. "One, I love the game and want to be a part of this team, and two, it's my job."

It's one his body may no longer let him do, no matter how much his mind wants him to keep going.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

Twitter: @latbbolch

Times staff writer Mike Bresnahan contributed to this report.

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