With Steve Nash back in the starting lineup after missing 24 games, the Los Angeles Lakers have officially entered a new era.
Kobe Bryant and Co. have been a lighting rod of criticism this season, stumbling out of the gates despite boasting a roster loaded with All-Stars. But with Nash's return, the Lakers will finally start to resemble a dominant unit.
In his first game back from a broken leg, Nash was a catalyst in the Lakers' 118-115 overtime victory against the Golden State Warriors Saturday night.
Nash played 41 minutes, displaying the unique skill set that should transform the 13-14 Lakers into a top-five seed in the Western Conference. With just under nine minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Lakers down by eight points, Nash checked in and the game immediately changed.
L.A. scored six straight points, and the 38-year-old added a clutch three-pointer with under two minutes left in regulation. He also sealed the game with a bucket with 16 seconds left in overtime, putting his final stat line at 12 points, nine assists, three rebounds and two steals.
While it wasn't a spectacular outing, Nash's performance exemplified what he will bring to the Lakers. He engaged in numerous pick-and-rolls with Dwight Howard, he found Pau Gasol for a couple 15-foot jumpers, and he sank both of his three pointers on the night.
He also looked perfectly comfortable in Mike D'Antoni's system, which will undoubtedly be boosted by Nash's presence.
Although the Lakers' championship hopes looked grim earlier this season, the addition of Nash should propel them into elite territory. He will provide some much-needed outside shooting, and his playmaking ability will have substantial positive impacts on Howard and Gasol.
I still wouldn't expect Los Angeles to win the title this season, but with Nash back in the fold, the new-look Lakers will return to their status as contenders in the Western Conference.