How will the Lakers respond?

March, 14, 2013
3/14/13
2:57
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Mike D'Antoni warned that the Lakers weren't out of the woods yet.

"We’re still in the middle of a dogfight," D'Antoni said prior to his team's 96-92 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday. "We’ve dug ourselves a hole and we’re definitely not out of it."

If D'Antoni was aware of it before the game, the rest of his team was certainly on that same frequency after the game.

It had been a while since the Lakers had deviated from the plan to get to the postseason by simply taking care of the teams they're supposed to beat and giving themselves a shot in the other games by playing hard.

Before their letdown loss to a Hawks team that came into the game having lost six out of seven and was without Josh Smith and Jeff Teague, L.A. had won nine of 11 since the All-Star break.

They had fallen behind early and faced deficits similar to the 14 points Atlanta led by in the first half -- think New Orleans and Toronto -- but had been able to rally thanks to Kobe Bryant.

"You just can't do that," D'Antoni said after the game. "We played with fire."

Their only two losses since the All-Star break came at Denver on the second night of a back-to-back, against a Nuggets team that is currently 29-3 at home, and at Oklahoma City to a Thunder team that is 29-4 at home.

After winning their previous two games against Chicago and Orlando by holding each opponent to sub 40-percent shooting, it was clear why the Hawks won: the Lakers' defense.

Atlanta scored 55 points in the first half on 52.3 percent shooting and not even Bryant's 20-point third quarter was enough to give L.A. control of the game from there.

"We just got to be there," said Dwight Howard who had just one block and five fouls because he was not "there," on time on defense for much of the night. "Erase the mistakes.There were a lot of times where I let guys get behind me. I just got to do a better job."

Howard holding himself accountable is a good sign for L.A.'s chances of bouncing back, especially if they are without the now-injured Bryant for a significant period.

Howard could get a chance to have the team run through him, as it did in win over Orlando, but he'll have to stay on the court and out of foul trouble to make that happen.

He'll also have to set the defensive tone for everybody.

"Just engage ourselves," said Earl Clark. "When we go down and we sprint down and we clog it up and help Steve (Nash) on the pick-and-rolls and help on the inside and not letting everybody get to the middle, I think we're a better team defensively."

The Lakers were already working on Friday's game against the Indiana Pacers before Wednesday's result, as players huddled on the court in the final seconds discussing their next game.

The message?

"We just got to come out better," said Howard. "We're going to have some bad games throughout the year, but we just have to come out the next game and make up for it."

Fortunately for L.A., the Utah Jazz also had a bad game on Wednesday -- losing 110-87 to Oklahoma City -- and keeping the standings as is, with the Lakers holding a half-game lead for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.

Unfortunately for L.A., its next game is in Indiana against a Pacers team that's 26-7 at home and has won nine of its last 12 games, just like the Lakers.

"They have a great home court," said Nash. "We’re going to have to be efficient and for me, I think the biggest thing is come back with a lot of passion and energy and belief."

Bryant, whether he is playing or not, has that belief that Nash spoke about.

"We’ll bounce back next game," Bryant said.

And D'Antoni was left echoing his pregame remarks as he addressed the media at the end of the night.

"We’re still in the fight," D'Antoni said. "We’re still in the hunt. Stuff happens and we just have to get it back together and go."

Dave McMenamin

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Nick Young
PTS AST STL MIN
17.9 1.5 0.7 28.3
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Hill 7.4
AssistsK. Marshall 8.8
StealsJ. Meeks 1.4
BlocksW. Johnson 1.0