Canadian Steve Nash finding his game with Lakers but team's struggles continue

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press

TORONTO - Steve Nash took a pass at the high post, streaked past a couple Toronto defenders and opened the scoring for the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday with an easy layup.

It was the kind of play Toronto fans hoped Nash would one day make in a Raptors uniform. Instead his lone appearance at Air Canada Centre this season came in the Lakers' purple and gold.

Nash considered a move north of the border last summer but eventually agreed to a sign-and-trade deal with the Lakers, deciding to play for a team that appeared primed for a run at a title. Los Angeles is also a short flight away from Phoenix — where his three children live — and that helped sealed the deal.

Hollywood's gain was Toronto's loss.

"It was definitely a huge option for me especially if the Lakers situation didn't happen," Nash said Sunday. "But the Lakers situation, basketball-wise, I think it was a good option ... but most importantly, to be close to my kids and to be able to see them as much I have this year has been priceless."

Canada's best-known basketball export returning to his home country would have been a huge catch for Toronto.

Adding a two-time league MVP would have given the Raptors a new face of the franchise and a boost at the box office. Nash is also the general manager of the men's national team for Canada Basketball.

"It was difficult for me to say no to the Raptors, not just for the fans but all those people upstairs that I've known for many years," he said.

Closing out his playing days on this country's lone NBA team would have been a nice way to cap an incredible career.

"It would have been great to come play here," Nash said. "But for me, I get to see my kids all the time and I wouldn't have got to do that if I had come to Toronto. So my quality of life has greatly improved by being close to my kids."

At 38, Nash is getting on in years but he's in tremendous shape and is showing no signs of slowing down.

He missed 24 games this season due to a small fracture in his lower left leg but has been effective since his return. Nash scored 16 points and added nine assists Sunday but the Lakers' recent struggles continued with a 108-103 loss to Toronto.

Los Angeles fell to 17-23 on the season and is mired in the same valley of mediocrity that the 15-26 Raptors seem to be perpetually stuck in.

The Lakers have had three different head coaches this season. Injuries have been a problem. The roster is loaded with superstars like Nash, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard but that hasn't led to victories.

"I think that's one of the things that I maybe didn't expect is that this would be the most challenging year of my career in many ways," Nash said. "But that's great. I'm always up for a challenge. I think it keeps you engaged and it keeps you extremely motivated.

"Just fighting every day to try to turn this thing around."

Words like urgency and frustration were uttered frequently in the Lakers' locker-room after the game. When asked what's missing from the team this season, Nash said it comes down to cohesion.

"Mentally we've got to stick with the script," Nash said. "And right now I think we're defecting from the script too many times."

The Toronto fans still love him. Nash generated the loudest ovation among the Lakers in the pre-game introductions.

He played 37 minutes but couldn't help the Lakers generate any real momentum. It has been a familiar refrain for a Los Angeles team that has had its challenges over the first half.

"We haven't really had a chance to figure out who we are yet," Nash said. "So that's probably not as expected.

"But everything else, I feel really comfortable (in Los Angeles). I really enjoy the organization, I really enjoy living there and I think we've got a lot to play for."