How Steve Nash Alters the Pau Gasol/Dwight Howard Pairing

Howard Ruben@howardrubenContributor IDecember 24, 2012

There will be a lot more high fives for Pau and Dwight now that Steve Nash is back.
There will be a lot more high fives for Pau and Dwight now that Steve Nash is back.USA TODAY Sports

Imagine driving a car down the street with no steering wheel.  It's what Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard have felt like for the past two months without Steve Nash directing the Lakers offense.

Not only have the Lakers reinstalled Nash—the steering wheel—back into the starting five, but they've added a global positioning system (GPS) for good measure.  For the most part, all parts performed pretty well Saturday night in a 118-115 overtime win at Golden State.

Aside from the fact that Kobe Bryant took way too many shots (41), the Lakers with Steve Nash at the helm had the look of a contender and not the pretender they've been for 26 games. 

And, although Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard had just nine and 11 points respectively, there were moments of sheer brilliance as Nash orchestrated an array of gorgeous assists to the Lakers twin towers.

What a difference a day makes.  For the 7' Spaniard, the return of Steve Nash to the Lakers lineup could not come at a better time.  Nash is the best in the business at creating space and finding the open man for jumpers, layups and dunks.

The presence of Nash just seemed to give both players a psychological boost.  Gasol hustled for 10 rebounds and had six assists; while Howard made a number of big plays on passes, blocked shots and defensive prowess, much of it coming while in foul trouble. 

Dwight Howard was definitely influenced by having Nash out on the court.  There were several instances where Nash made perfect passes to D12 in the paint, but the big guy had trouble holding onto the ball.  On some levels, Nash appeared more in sync than Dwight with an offense he hasn't seen since Halloween.

Still, Howard had his moments against the Warriors, and they were not highlight reel dunks.  Rather, the 6'11" Howard made like a point guard with several on-the-money passes to teammates, including one spectacular give-and-go to Kobe Bryant. 

Howard was also the recipient of a Nash pick-and-roll pass late in regulation, which left Metta World Peace open for a three-pointer from the corner.

For one night at least, Steve Nash made a triumphant return to a Lakers lineup that had been playing with no direction or passion.  While many feel the soon to be 39-year old Nash is the key to the team's playoff aspirations, the two-time league MVP plays down such suggestions.

Via, he said, "If we become a great team, that's not down to me.  If we don't, it's not down to me either."

Making clutch plays like this one late in the Lakers come-from-behind win over the 18-10 Warriors would suggest otherwise.  Nash is a huge part of the Lakers hopes for a 17th World Championship.  

With Steve Nash on the court, the roles of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol become much more defined.  Nash is the master at the pick-and-roll, and both big men are skilled enough to work that system to perfection.

Chris Duhon and Darius Morris tried to play the Steve Nash role for two months and both have shown some tremendous skills along the way.  And even Kobe Bryant got into the facilitator act; he has always been an underrated passer, and he proved that in the absence of Nash.

But, if there is one player who can make the Howard-Gasol pairing work, it is Steve Nash.  Says Coach Mike D'Antoni (via FoxSportsWest): "I think that we're a completely different team with him out there."

That just may be the understatement of the season.