Though Mike D'Antoni has yet to coach the Los Angeles Lakers from the sidelines, his new team already has started to adapt to his high-octane offense.
Even without the familiar face he expects to be running it.
The Lakers' most recent game appeared to show D'Antoni's arrival has made a quick impact, and now he's expected to be on their bench for the first time Sunday night against the visiting Houston Rockets.
"This is a great city to have an up-tempo, exciting game that has a legitimate shot to win a championship," D'Antoni said Thursday upon taking over. "I can't ask for anything more."
A 1-4 start resulted in coach Mike Brown being fired, and Los Angeles (4-5) passed up the possibility of bringing back Phil Jackson by hiring D'Antoni on Monday. The former Phoenix and New York coach has been on crutches as he recovers from knee replacement surgery earlier this month, delaying his arrival in Los Angeles.
D'Antoni ran practice Thursday for the first time, beginning the implementation of his free-flowing style, but wasn't on the bench for a game against the Suns on Friday night. Even with interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff still at the helm, the Lakers picked up their offense and put some of D'Antoni's offerings into play en route to their highest-scoring game of the season in a 114-102 win.
"Not as many post-ups," Pau Gasol said in describing the offense. "More transition and quicker shots, I guess. ... We played pretty simple basketball and just played off each other."
Los Angeles has gone 3-1 under Bickerstaff despite playing without Steve Nash. The two-time MVP who had so much success running D'Antoni's Suns teams has missed seven straight games with a leg fracture, and the team announced Friday he would miss at least another week.
Despite his history with Nash, D'Antoni said he was looking forward to working with backup point guard Steve Blake. However, the 10-year veteran has missed the past two games with a strained abdomen and might not return Sunday. Darius Morris has totaled six points and seven assists in two games as the starter.
The rotating point guard situation hasn't negatively affected Kobe Bryant, who is especially looking forward to playing in D'Antoni's system.
"We're just getting started, but it will make a lot of things easier," said Bryant, who scored 31 points Friday. "Everybody kind of moves, the whole offense has to find their position."
Things haven't been easy for the Rockets (4-5).
Coach Kevin McHale is still away for a personal matter, and Houston has split the four games he's missed. First-round pick Royce White also isn't with the team, upset with management's "inconsistent" handling of him regarding anxiety issues.
The Rockets also are having problems putting teams away. They nearly wasted a 20-point advantage in the second half against New Orleans in a 100-96 win Wednesday, and that came between two defeats in which they blew seven-point leads in the final four-plus minutes.
"It's frustrating. It hurts," Chandler Parsons said after a 119-117 overtime loss at Portland on Friday. "... Something's got to change where we can close out games better so that when we get these big leads we can keep them and extend them."
Parsons has averaged 19.0 points over the past three games, a stretch during which Omer Asik also has stepped up with 16.7 points and 14.0 rebounds per game.
Asik now must battle Dwight Howard, who like the young Rockets center has posted three straight double-doubles.
Jeremy Lin had his second double-double in a Houston uniform Friday with 11 points and 11 assists, but he's shot 30.3 percent from the field over the last four games.
James Harden scored 29 points Friday, but the Rockets fell to 1-5 when he fails to reach 30.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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