The game wasn’t exactly the Showtime II that the Los Angeles Lakers were dreaming of when they hired Mike D’Antoni, but the team made him a winner in his debut as coach Tuesday night.
Kobe Bryant had 25 points (with six in the last two minutes), Dwight Howard had 23 points and 15 rebounds and Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace scored 17 points each as the Lakers beat the Brooklyn Nets 95-90 in a game characterized more by defense than full-speed offense. The Lakers now have won five of six games since the 1-4 start that got Mike Brown fired 11 days ago. D’Antoni, still limping after having knee replacement surgery early this month, looked at ease if not exactly comfortable on the Lakers’ bench.
“With this team, there’s no reason not to win every game,” D’Antoni said after coaching his first game since stepping down as New York Knicks coach last spring. “That’s our goal. It’s not, `Let’s get two out of three.’ We can win every game we play. … I feel like we’re the best team in the league. We’ve got the most talent, so they can do what they want. We’ve just got to keep perfecting things.”
D’Antoni has been using crutches in practice, but was crutch-free and walking with a slight limp Tuesday night. “I was a little peg-legged, but it was good,” D’Antoni said. “Adrenaline is a great thing. I’m good. Jumping is a thing of the past.”
Not everything is in sync yet. The Lakers didn’t suddenly score like the D’Antoni era Phoenix Suns. And the Nets controlled the tempo and employed a “hack-a-Howard” approach that resulted in 7-of-19 shooting from the line, 3-of-10 in the fourth quarter. At this point, D’Antoni doesn’t mind that.
“The thing with Dwight, I hope you know, if they start Hack-a-Dwight and he’s making one out of two, that’s a possession,” D’Antoni said (via ESPN). “That’s one point per possession. That’s pretty good basketball, especially down the stretch. So that’s fine. If they want to do that, that’s great. I got no problem with it.”
D’Antoni dumped Brown’s Princeton offense, which had the Lakers off-balance. “We know what we’re doing out there and that helps,” Gasol told ESPN’s J.A. Adande. “There’s not much hesitation and that contributes to limiting the mistakes. That’s the main key.
“Even though it’s a new system, we’re playing out of pick-and-rolls, pistol actions, pindowns, post-ups. Very familiar, basic stuff that, thanks to our personnel, we get so much out of.”
Bryant has played for D’Antoni and he pronounced the transition to be smooth, at least in Game 1 of the D’Antoni era.
“It’s the same as it’s always been,” Bryant said. “He’s always very calm, but he still has an undertone edge to him. He’s the same D’Antoni. … We’re just getting more in sync with each other. For the most part, we’re doing a pretty good job taking care of the ball.”