The Los Angeles Lakers' 104-87 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night didn't prove that the Lakers are now a force to be reckoned with in the West since Steve Nash returned to the lineup, but it sure was an illustration of how Nash makes life easier for the rest of his teammates.
Nash has lifted the play-making responsibility from Bryant and allowed him to concentrate more on defense and scoring the ball.
Howard has found more of a rhythm on offense playing alongside Nash, and the energy Nash has injected may also be responsible for Howard's inspired, yet inconsistent moments on the defensive end lately.
Nash has certainly caused a drop in the stress level of the Lakers with his return, but no other player is probably more grateful than Pau Gasol.
Gasol turned in a complete performance against the Trail Blazers, finishing the game with 15 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three blocked shots. But more importantly, he looked more comfortable and confident than he has in a long while.
Gasol's rebirth couldn't have come at a better time for the Lakers. While Howard, Bryant and Nash may get all of the press, Gasol's impact on both ends of the floor could be the determining factor on how far the Lakers can advance in the postseason, if they reach it.
Nash is the engine that makes the Lakers go, but Gasol serves somewhat the same purpose as a catalyst for the team's interior attack, as his five assists in each of the past five games attests.
Gasol is more skilled and versatile than Howard, but he needed a player like Nash to ease the pressure and allow the dynamics of his game to shine through. He will probably never be an 18-point-per-game scorer again on this Lakers team, but like Howard, he has the ability to control a contest without scoring a point and from any place on the court.
Since Nash has returned, the 7'1" Gasol has even been flirting with extending his shooting range beyond the three-point line. And his efficiency so far has even prompted Howard to jokingly compare Gasol to Dirk Nowitzki, and Hakeem Olajuwon as well, which is a testament to the diversity of Gasol's game.
Most people assumed that a backcourt of Nash and Bryant would be the driving engine behind a playoff push for the Lakers. But it appears that Nash and Gasol may actually complement each other better than anyone else on the Lakers' roster.
And as Gasol grows even more comfortable playing with Nash, the results could be even better.
Gasol has made a remarkable turnaround from trade bait and a bad fit for Mike D'Antoni's scheme to being an integral piece for the Lakers' hopes of realizing their immense promise. And like the rest of his teammates, he owes it all to Nash's guidance.