D'Antoni: 'We're still not a very good team'

December 14, 2012

“It may not have been pretty,” Jodie Meeks said following the Lakers’ 102-96 win against Washington, “but at least it was a win.”
Kobe Bryant shook off the effects of back spasms to score 30 points, while Meeks came off the bench to score a crucial 24 points as the Lakers snapped a four-game losing streak. And it’s more than fair to say a win is a win — especially after four straight losses and just four wins in Mike D’Antoni’s first 13 games. But as D’Antoni said to reporters “we’re still not a very good team.”
No, they’re not.
One play against the Wizards — the worst team in the NBA at 3-17 — vividly illustrates why the 2012-13 Lakers are such a schizophrenic team.
After blowing a nine-point lead and trailing the Wizards by four early in the second quarter, Metta World Peace missed a three-pointer, yet there wasn’t one Laker anywhere near the basket to go for an offensive rebound. They’d all taken off back to the defensive end, which is seemingly the right move. However, if you allow Cartier Martin to get an easy rebound and pass it to Kevin Seraphin for an unguarded, uncontested dunk, it’s a horrible play. And Dwight Howard looked disgustedly at World Peace, who had actually gotten back on defense, yet didn’t bother to try and stop Seraphin.
That is the Lakers' season in microcosm, nasty looks and all.
Then in the fourth quarter with a 16-point lead over the hapless Wizards, it happened again. They were outscored 20-7 before they actually played some solid defense and Bryant came through with six of the last eight Laker points to escape with a win.
Even with a bad back, Bryant played 44 minutes for the second consecutive game, and said he told D’Antoni that he had no intention of sitting down.
“I’m not tired,” he said. “I’m in really good shape so I’m not tired.” What he didn’t say is that he probably didn’t trust his teammates enough to close out the win if spent any time on the bench.
Contributing to the closeness of the final score was Dwight Howard’s foul problems, which kept his minutes played to just 32. He did put up excellent numbers though — 12 points, 14 rebounds and 4 blocks. Had he played 40-plus minutes, it might have been a more impressive performance for the victors.
World Peace added 13 points and 6 rebounds, while rookie center Robert Sacre helped out with Howard on the sidelines in foul trouble, scoring 4 points and taking down 4 rebounds in 16 minutes. Forward Cartier Martin came off the bench to lead the Wizards with 21 points.
The Lakers end this four-game road trip in Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon.
1. The Lakers’ injury bug is back, back, back. Bryant reportedly nearly sat out the Wizards’ game with back spasms, while Jordan Hill was unavailable, also suffering with spasms. Howard said in New York that he’s not 100 percent healthy from his April disc surgery, and at some points seems to be reaching on defense. Bryant first experienced the back troubles midway through Thursday's loss to the Knicks, and was seen having hot packs strapped to his back in the second half. He was also grimacing noticeably, struggling to bring the ball up the floor. With Nash scheduled to start practicing with the team again next week, it might be time for D’Antoni to risk a loss and give Kobe and Dwight a night off — maybe Sunday against Philadelphia, when Pau Gasol might return after missing eight games with knee tendinitis. It’s not going to do the Lakers much good if Nash gets back, but Bryant and Howard aren’t healthy.
2. The rumor mill is once again working overtime, grinding out missives about Gasol going here and there. One of the most intriguing is Pau to Utah for Paul Millsap. It would likely take a third — or fourth — team to get in the mix due to contract constraints, but if the Lakers are determined to trade the Spaniard — and they deny it — getting Millsap would be a nice acquisition. He’s tough, has a good offensive game and has just one year left on his contract. Personally, I’d stick with Gasol and just use his dominant low-post skills more frequently. But they can do a lot worse than Millsap and maybe unhappy Jazz guard Raja Bell, who would help strengthen their bench. And Bell already knows D’Antoni’s system from their days together in Phoenix.
3. Nice to see Robert Sacre get some playing time the last two games. Like Hill, the center from Gonzaga is an energy guy, something the Lakers desperately need.