Steve Nash to return to action

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MINNEAPOLIS -- For the first time in nearly three months, the oldest player in the NBA will suit up for game action.

Steve Nash, who turns 40 on Friday, will start against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday, Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said after shootaround Tuesday morning.

Nash, sidelined since Nov. 10 with nerve root irritation in his back and hamstrings, will ease into things. D'Antoni said the plan is to play the 18-year veteran the first five to eight minutes in the each half.

"Steve Nash needs to warm up and then play," D'Antoni said of the two-time league MVP, who has averaged 6.7 points on 26.1 percent shooting and 4.8 assists in just six games this season. "If we're going to get the most out of him, there's no use in him sitting over there for five to 10 minutes and then playing. We feel like we want to see [how Nash can perform]. Let's get into it. We might as well get into it now."

It's been a long road back for Nash. He has made four trips to Vancouver, British Columbia, while he's been injured for intensive workout sessions with personal trainer Rick Celebrini.

"It is tenuous," Nash said. "I also have to get some games under my belt, hopefully, to build up the strength and confidence to protect that area. It's tenuous; I'm not going to lie. If I can get through that window there where I've put some games behind me and am no worse for the wear, then I got a chance, I think, to finish the season.

"But it's a really tricky injury, and I'm not going to take anything for granted. I'm just happy to get a chance to play tonight. And one game in the grand scheme of things is something I'm just happy to have. If I can make it two and three and four, obviously that's the best outcome."

Steve Blake, out since Dec. 10 with a tear in his right elbow, will join Nash in the starting backcourt.

"There's nothing better than being out there, playing in the game, competing and trying to get a win with your teammates," Blake said. "So I'm excited for it."

Jordan Farmar, sidelined since Dec. 31 with a tear in his left hamstring, will dress for the Wolves game, but D'Antoni could hold off his return until Wednesday, when the Lakers play the Cleveland Cavaliers. Nash will not play against the Cavs, sitting out the second night of the back-to-back, which would open more playing time for Farmar.

L.A. will round out its starting lineup Tuesday with Robert Sacre at center in place of injured Pau Gasol, accompanied up front by Jodie Meeks and Ryan Kelly.

"It's not like we're breaking up our rhythm or anything," joked D'Antoni about the lineup change, woefully aware that his team has lost 18 of its last 21 games.

Meanwhile, Nash, who has been sporting a red beard with patches of gray as of late, hinted that he might go back to a clean-shaven look by tipoff.

"That's a game-time decision," Nash said. "I forgot I had it."

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