Steve Nash smiled sheepishly as he assessed his first game for the languishing Los Angeles Lakers in almost three months.
The admission was a little selfish, he acknowledged after the team's seventh straight loss, but moving around the court after all that time missed to a nerve problem in his back sure was satisfying.
"It's been a tough road, but tonight there's a part of me that feels like a kid, like a rookie that got to play in the NBA," Nash said. "It's a pretty cool feeling."
Kevin Love had 31 points and 17 rebounds for Minnesota, leading the Timberwolves to a 109-99 win on Tuesday that spoiled Nash's return and stuck the Lakers with their 19th loss in their last 22 games.
With Kobe Bryant out for most of this season, too, it's become a lost cause for one of the proudest and most prestigious franchises in the league. But, hey, here's a small victory: Nash, who had been sidelined since Nov. 10, had seven points and nine assists in 25 minutes, about 10 more than he was supposed to play.
"I've been training toward today for the better part of 10 months so there's got to be something that can hopefully allow me to adapt," Nash said.
He said this was the best his back has felt all season. He also seemed to be savoring the experience, more than an insignificant loss in February would typically cause.
"Because no matter how many games I have left, it's not a lot," Nash said.
The two-time league MVP will turn 40 on Friday, when the Lakers wrap up their road trip at Philadelphia. They play at Cleveland on Wednesday, and coach Mike D'Antoni said that Nash would sit that one out. They'll be cautious with him about back-to-back games, but this was a solid first step.
"I thought he competed, and we've got to have everybody compete that way," D'Antoni said.
Steve Blake also returned, coming back from a torn ligament in his right elbow that had shelved him since Dec. 10. He ruptured his eardrum during the game but kept playing on another night of bad luck and bad defense for the fallen franchise. Blake was scoreless in 31 minutes and took only two shots.
Fittingly, as soon as two guys came back, two more went out.
Jodie Meeks (sprained right ankle, first quarter) and backup Jordan Hill (headache and neck strain, first quarter) were hurt for the Lakers, who have been without star Kobe Bryant for most of the season. Pau Gasol also sat out with a strained right groin and could be out until after the All-Star break.
D'Antoni said Meeks won't play the rest of the road trip. Hill was walking stiffly in the locker room after the game but was held out as a precaution, the coach said.
"I just feel for those guys. I just was in their position," Blake said. "Unfortunately it's a part of the game, and the rest of us have to pick it up."
The reserves had a whopping 70 points, with Nick Young, Manny Harris and former Timberwolves first-round draft pick Wes Johnson leading the way, but the Lakers still fell into a tie for last place in the Western Conference with Utah and Sacramento. This was also their first loss at Target Center in almost seven years, ending an 11-game run.
The Lakers have allowed 100-plus points in 15 straight games, their longest such streak since 17 in a row during the 1986-87 season. Though the Timberwolves had their own stumbles, letting a 25-point lead in the second quarter dwindle to seven early in the fourth, they started a crucial week with an important win.
Kevin Martin scored 14 of his season-high-tying 32 points in the first 10 minutes, and Love handled most of the rest. Ricky Rubio pitched in 13 assists and six rebounds.
"I just want to continue to keep playing and give this team all that I can," Love said. "Yeah, I've taken a physical beating, but you've got to expect being one of the top guys that they're going to come at you."
With Nikola Pekovic likely out through the All-Star break, the Wolves need that kind of performance from Love.
"He played physical, he played aggressive, and that's why he's so good," Rubio said.