LOS ANGELES — After a sample size of four games, there’s one conclusion you can come to about this year’s Lakers without Kobe Bryant: This season will look a lot like 2012-13 until the Mamba is once again available.
Up. Down. Back. Forth. Many games like Sunday night’s 105-103 win over the Atlanta Hawks at Staples Center. The Lakers blew a 21-point lead and needed a critical referee’s call and two late-game free throws by Pau Gasol to come away with the victory and even their record at 2-2.
The team now heads out on a road trip beginning Tuesday in Dallas before moving to Houston on Thursday — hello Dwight Howard — and ending against the Pelicans in New Orleans on Friday.
Throughout the preseason, head coach Mike D’Antoni often chastised the media for ignoring the Lakers’ 28-12 finish to a season with saw Kobe tear his Achilles on April 12 and miss a first-round sweep at the hands of San Antonio. D’Antoni would point out how great the team played in its final 40 regular season games, and then ask why they couldn’t pick up where they left off.
Simple. They don’t have Bryant’s overall game or Howard’s defensive domination to allow them to win close games. And their head coach continues to make personnel mistakes, such as having bruising rebounder Jordan Hill on the bench for the first three quarters of Friday’s loss to the Spurs. And he didn’t make up for it on Sunday, as Hill played just 14 minutes. Yet he had six points, five rebounds — tied for third on the team — and a block to help the Lakers stay in the game until they could win it on Gasol’s free throws.
It’s shocking that D’Antoni said after Sunday’s game that the team is lacking consistent energy, yet he won’t give big minutes to one of the NBA’s top energy players in Hill. He did it when he took over the team last November and Hill had earned some minutes with tenacious play down low, dropping him completely from the rotation until D’Antoni woke up and saw how much the former first-round pick could contribute. Had Hill not torn up his hip and had surgery, the team would have had a much easier time of it last season. This year he roared out of the gates, yet his own coach tried to stifle him. Again.
Reserve big man Chris Kaman may not have meant it in a negative way, but he had some interesting comments about his new head coach after the win.
“Coach is trying to figure out the lineup, and it’s not easy to do when you have ten guys who can play like we’ve got,” Kaman said. “We’re up and down a lot. We’ve got some good ups and we’ve got some bad downs, and we’ve got to get that straightened out.”
When told by a reporter that D’Antoni said he was to give guys like himself and Hill more playing time, a somewhat bemused look spread over Kaman’s face as he addressed the issue.
“I’m not trying to knock anybody doing their job,” he said, “but it’s hard to get consistency when you don’t get minutes. It’s hard for me….not to know where [I] stand. Every night it’s different, and sometimes coach will decide to go in another direction and it isn’t easy. It something we’re all trying to work through.
“But we did get a win and nothing matters if you don’t win the game. Minutes, points, whatever. If you don’t win it doesn’t mean anything. If you don’t win, you’re just a loser.”
D’Antoni wasn’t tremendously pleased with the overall play of the team, but was very happy to walk away with a W.
“Hey, I’m just going to take the win and move on,” he said wearily during his postgame news conference. “We’ve got some things we have to cure, and we’ll start working on that tomorrow and hopefully get them taken care of quickly. There’s no way we’re just going to put everybody together and become a top-level team right now. We’ve seen flashes of it against the Clippers [and] San Antonio — but we just can’t sustain it right now. We can get there, but it’s going to take time.”
Time D’Antoni may not have if his decision-making doesn’t get better. NOTES — Xavier Henry replaced Nick Young in the starting lineup for the Lakers and led them in scoring with 18 points. Young responded to his demotion with 13 points in 20 minutes…..Gasol had 16 points and 13 rebounds for the Lakers…Atlanta’s Kyle Korver had 22 points on 8 of 10 shooting.