LOS ANGELES — A future, sure-fire Hall of Fame performer has rejoined the Los Angeles Lakers' lineup, just in time to try and make life miserable for the Utah Jazz.
And no, it's not Kobe Bryant.
While Bryant remains sidelined with a knee injury that benched him in mid-December after playing just six games this season — he missed the Lakers' first 19 games of the 2013-14 campaign while recovering from surgery to repair a torn Achilles, suffered at the end of last season — Los Angeles will benefit from the return of veteran point guard Steve Nash, who has missed most of this season with injury problems of his own.
Nash, who had played in just nine games thus far this season as of Sunday, was in the Lakers' starting lineup for Tuesday night's game against the Jazz. He exited Sunday's game against Chicago early due to nerve irritation in his left leg and tightness in his back, but said Tuesday that he was good to go against Utah.
And Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said the crafty Nash, the league's two-time MVP and a 17-year NBA veteran who just turned 40 years old last week, can still give opposing teams plenty of problems.
"His durability, the effectiveness he still has in the game and, at his age, we're still talking about him in the scouting report," Corbin said when asked what impressed him the most about the Lakers' seemingly ageless 6-foot-3 point guard, who took season averages of 8.2 points and 5.0 assists per game into Tuesday's matchup.
"You've got to make sure you know where he is when the ball's in his hands, making him work and trying not to have him collapse the defense where he's picking you apart."
Nash scored 19 points on his 40th birthday last Friday against Philadelphia, the most points scored by a player age 40 or older since Karl Malone scored 20 back on April 1, 2004.
Nash ranks fourth all time in career assists with 10,294, just 40 behind fourth-place Mark Jackson but more than 5,500 behind all-time leader John Stockton. Nash also owns the NBA's highest career percentage in free-throw shooting at 90.4.
Corbin said Nash's presence impacts his team's game preparation "a lot, a lot. If he's going well, then they're playing pretty well because he makes everybody else on the floor better for them because he's going to get the ball to them in spots where they can be effective with the ball.
"He's gonna be the guy that initiates everything for their team, so we've got to make sure we don't let him have a good game against us."
MARVIN'S BEEN MARVELOUS: When Marvin Williams scores a big bucket during a Jazz home game, EnergySolutions Arena public address announcer Dan Roberts often refers to the Utah power forward as "marvelous Marvin Williams."
And lately, Williams has certainly lived up to that introduction.
The 6-foot-9, nine-year NBA veteran came into Tuesday night's game with a string of strong scoring performances that included three consecutive games of 21 or more points. He scored a season-high 23 points against Toronto, had 21 against Dallas, and hit 23 again against Miami. Williams connected on five 3-pointers each night in back-to-back games against the Mavericks and Heat.
"I've been making shots, I guess," said Williams, who's averaging 10.3 points per game this season. "I'm just getting the shots I've been getting all season.
"It's a great feeling. I've been making a lot of shots, helping the team win, and that one we had against Miami (last Saturday) was huge for our team, especially after the way we played in Dallas. We felt like we really didn't give our best effort, so to bounce back like that against Miami was a good feeling."
Asked what he thought had been the difference in Williams' game lately, Corbin said it was "his awareness. We've been able to space the floor a lot with him out there, and getting the ball on the strong side and putting him on the weak side and being able to have the defense collapse because Derrick (Favors) and Enes (Kanter), our big guys, are diving towards the rim.
"Our guards are attacking and where the bigs are fixing to come in and help, (Williams) is getting good looks on his side."
UP AND DOWN: Williams was asked to explain how the Jazz could look so dreadful one night against Dallas, then turn right around and knock off Miami, the two-time defending NBA champs, the next.
"That happens sometimes with younger teams, man," he said. "You've got to try to find that consistency and you try to bring it every single night. You've got to be able to do it individually and you've got to do it collectively as a team, and I think we've all got to do that — not just the young guys, all of us together."
LAKERS' LONG INJURED LIST: Amazingly, the short-handed Lakers entered Tuesday's game with six players on the inactive list due to injuries, including their four leading scorers and five in all who are averaging double-digit scoring: big man Pau Gasol (a team-best 17.0 points and 10.2 rebounds per game); swingman Nick Young (16.9 ppg); guard Jodie Meeks (14.4); Bryant (13.8); guard Xavier Henry (10.1) and guard Jordan Farmar (9.3).
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