Of course it had to happen like this.
Steve Nash. Freak injury. Leaving a game in the third quarter.
The latest piece of an incomprehensible Lakers puzzle was tossed off the table Sunday when Nash exited early in a 92-86 loss to the Chicago Bulls.
Nash experienced nerve irritation in his left knee, the same place where he sustained a fracture last season. He later said the nerve was "on fire" when he was kneed by Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich, but he stayed in the game for about four minutes.
Nash left for good with five minutes to go in the third quarter at Staples Center.
"I don't think it's going to be a long-term thing at all," Nash said after his third game back from almost three months of inactivity because of back pain. "It wasn't like I broke it again. I just kind of irritated the nerve. . . . I think it's kind of transient and hopefully I'll wake up [Monday] and feel better."
Nash initially hurt his left knee in October 2012 when he collided with Portland guard Damian Lillard. It was a bizarre injury that included nerve damage in addition to the fracture and ultimately cost Nash 24 games last season.
He had eight points and two assists in 22 minutes against Chicago, throwing some behind-the-back passes and making three of four shots before leaving.
Nash also felt soreness in his back Sunday, the result of trying to limp through his sore knee, essentially throwing his whole body out of whack.
"It's all connected," Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni said.
Nash has played only nine games this season, a semi-important number in the Lakers' financial world. If a doctor eventually determines that the only cure for his chronic back pain is retirement, and an NBA-appointed physician agrees, his $9.7-million salary next season comes off the Lakers' books in late April — but only if Nash plays fewer than 10 games this season.
In no way has Nash appeared ready to retire despite turning 40 last Friday. He actually played well on his birthday against Philadelphia, collecting 19 points and five assists in a Lakers victory.
Meanwhile, there was a game Sunday against Chicago. And the end of a two-game winning streak.
The Lakers tried just about everything with their nine players who suited up — including a stretch with three point guards on the court at the same time — but it didn't stop them from falling to 18-33.
Chris Kaman had 27 points and 10 rebounds, his best game in a mostly lost season with the Lakers. He somehow outscored the Lakers' starting five by himself, making 13 of 23 shots.
"Chris is a very good offensive player and there's no reason why he can't score as long as we keep the middle open and play to his strengths," D'Antoni said.
Among the starters, Steve Blake matched Nash with eight points, Wesley Johnson had six, Robert Sacre had two and Ryan Kelly was scoreless for a total of 24 points. Blake, Johnson, Kelly and Sacre made seven of 31 shots (22.6%).
Kendall Marshall had 13 points and 11 assists for the Lakers, jumping back into a prominent role after Nash's departure.
Joakim Noah had 18 points and 13 rebounds for Chicago (25-25), which played its final game on a six-game road trip.
Above all, there was one continual slice of reality. Nash's pain is par for the Lakers' terrain this season.
"That is frustrating for sure, to get hurt on the exact spot that's giving me a lot of trouble," Nash said. "I can overcome this, hopefully, on short order."
Times correspondent Eric Pincus contributed to this report.