Lakers score big, still have long way to go
November, 17, 2012
By Dave McMenamin
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty ImagesDwight Howard and the Lakers played up-tempo against the Suns and it resulted in a win.
LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Lakers reached Mike D'Antoni's benchmark in Friday's 114-102 win over the Phoenix Suns, settling right into the 110-115 points-per-game spectrum in which D'Antoni vowed L.A. would operate going forward.
But this performance wasn't about the Lakers miraculously absorbing "D'Antoni Ball" right off the bat.
How much of the D'Antoni offense did they run?
"Some," said Pau Gasol, who put in 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting. "A little."
Meaning, the team put one foot forward, but they're still not ready for D'Antoni's all-out sprint.
Even though D'Antoni was officially introduced as the 24th coach in franchise history Thursday, he didn't coach the team Friday, leaving the duties to interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff.
D'Antoni remained backstage during the game, undergoing treatment on his surgically replaced knee in the trainer's room and then splitting the rest of his time in the player's lounge and his new office.
He spoke to the team briefly before the game, and again at halftime, but he kept his instructions to Bickerstaff pretty simple.
"He has given us a succinct message," Bickerstaff said before the game. "Win."
They did just that, improving to 4-5 while posting their highest scoring output of the season. The Lakers scored 32 more points than they did in their last game, an 84-82 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday, and they hoisted 15 more shots, evidence of their fast-moving approach.
Yes, there was a commitment to upping the tempo, but also Phoenix -- run by D'Antoni's former assistant in Alvin Gentry -- wants to play that way too, as opposed to the more controlled Spurs. It's not as if the Suns fought the pace; they got shot-happy right along with the Lakers, taking 92 shots to the Lakers' 89.
Seeing Gasol as one of five players in double figures was encouraging (along with Kobe Bryant's 31, Metta World Peace's 22, Dwight Howard's 18 and Jordan Hill's 10), but this isn't the second coming of "Showtime" just yet.
"What you've seen out there is nothing close to what eventually will happen," said Chris Duhon, who played for D'Antoni in New York. "I've played in this system and it takes time. It's a timing thing. It's an offense to where once everyone understands it, there's no play call. It's more eye contact. I look at a guy a certain way, he understands what I want to happen."
What everyone in Lakerland wants to happen is for Steve Nash to return to the court as quickly as possible from his fractured left leg. Nash was re-evaluated Friday and it was determined he'll miss at least another week, so you can tack that on to the time it's going to take before things will truly start to come together.
Without Nash (or Steve Blake, who was out because of a strained abdomen) the ball was in the hands of Darius Morris and Duhon to man the point. Both were able to create penetration and they picked up eight assists between them (six for Morris).
"Floor spacing was amazing," World Peace said. "There's a lot of room to attack."
They attacked with less post-ups, which D'Antoni considers the least efficient play in basketball. There were more drag screens, more commitment to transition opportunities, quicker shots.
Things looked good Friday because those shots fell, particularly the ones from World Peace, who shot 5-for-10 on 3-pointers.
If he's not hitting them, it's a different story and the fact that Howard is still not 100 percent, and the rest of the team doesn't have the stamina built up to run this system quite yet becomes more apparent.
"Late in the fourth quarter, there were a couple possessions where we were all winded and just giving in to fatigue," Howard said. "We got to fight that."
They'll also have to fight the burden of expectations, as D'Antoni set the bar for this team to be a high-scoring group that also wins games.
"As long as we win," Bryant said. "I really don't care, to be honest with you (if we score 110 points). That's a goal that we have set, but as long as we win the game it doesn't matter."
Nonetheless, after their last coach, Mike Brown, set goals for the team that were never reached, getting a win and getting it in the style D'Antoni set felt like another score.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.