EL SEGUNDO, CA — Even though it looks like the Lakers will squeeze their way in the playoffs this season, they still aren’t close to being a consistently good basketball team.
Mike D’Antoni has said on numerous occasions that he’s never sure which team he’ll be coaching on what particular night.
Will it be the one that has fought its way back into the postseason hunt, or the one that Friday night blew an 18-point lead and lost to the Washington Wizards at Staples Center?
D’Antoni’s frustrations came bursting out in his post-game comments, as he ripped his team’s self-professed championship hopes.
“That’s laughable,” D’Antoni said about his team’s ritual of breaking huddles and yelling “championship.”
“Championship? You’ve got to be kidding me. Until they understand the importance of every possession… that they’ve got come out with some determination to be a good basketball team, then we’re just fooling ourselves. And right now, that’s what we’re doing.
“We’re making a sham-mockery of it, or whatever they call it.”
After taking a day off before getting in a final practice as they head out on a four-game road trip, D’Antoni had calmed down and admitted that he doesn’t usually let his emotions bubble to the surface so publicly.
“Yeah, I was pretty livid,” he said following Sunday’s practice, “but it’s pretty hard not to be when the adrenalin is going after a loss like that. But I was mad at myself, mad at the coaches, mad at the players. We were all mad at each other. Really, the only thing that makes me mad is when we don’t play up to our potential. When it comes to being livid, though, you have to pick your sports. You can’t be a madman every night.
“But today I feel a lot better about everything and we have to guard against things like that happening again.
Center Dwight Howard has expressed his frustrations often during a season in which he’s fought to get back his health after back surgery, and restore his once-pristine reputation following rows with former coach Stan Van Gundy and allegedly with Kobe Bryant.
Right now, though, he said it’s just a matter of everyone pulling together for the last 11 games of the season, making the playoffs and then doing the damage they all feel they’re capable of causing in the postseason.
“Losses like that are disappointing,” said the league’s leading rebounder at 12.5 per game, “but you forget about it and move on to another big game Monday night. We have to move forward, which is something we’ve been doing pretty well since the All Star break. You can’t keep dwelling on that loss. You just make up for it (Monday) night against the Warriors by slowing the game down, making them work harder for their shot and come away with a win.”
The Lakers go into Golden State with a 36-34 record and a tenuous grip on the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot. However, no less an authority than former Laker Hall of Fame player and executive Jerry West — now a member of the Warriors’ Board of Directors — says that if his former team makes it to the postseason, it’ll be a tough draw for whoever ends up playing it.
D’Antoni wholeheartedly agrees.
“I’ve told the guys that if we play to our max,” he said, “I’m not afraid of any team — I don’t care who it is. I think everybody thinks that — fans, media and everybody else. But we’re not there.
“We keep talking about getting there. Now we just need to do it.”
NOTES — Top reserve Antawn Jamison said he’ll play Monday night against the Warriors after suffering a sprained wrist against the Wizards. An MRI showed no structural damage, but Jamison admitted that he’ll be in pain the rest of the way, and possibly have surgery after the season.
“I’ve played with pain before,” Jamison said, “and once you get on the court you pretty much forget about it and play your game. I just have to try not to reinjure it.
“Will I have surgery? That’s something that might have to be considered if it doesn’t heal. I want to have a few more years in this league and may have to do it. But the main thing is to get to the playoffs this season and worry about the rest later.”