OAKLAND, Calif. — Ever since Phil Jackson received that midnight phone call informing him that the Los Angeles Lakers had chosen Mike D'Antoni over him as their newest head coach, it's been tough going for D'Antoni in establishing a rapport with fans in Southern California.
Well, there's someone about 370 miles up the California coast who appreciates the job that D'Antoni has been doing.
"Give Coach D’Antoni credit," said Golden State Warriors counterpart Mark Jackson before Saturday night's meeting between the teams. "He’s doing a good job of mixing it up and putting those guys in position to be successful."
"Those guys" have been a rotating cast of characters, thanks to a devastating string of injuries. Point guard has been the position hit the hardest for the Lakers, with Steve Nash (nerve root irritation in his back and hamstrings), Steve Blake (torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow) and Jordan Farmar (left hamstring tear) all sidelined simultaneously, with Kobe Bryant, who had been filling in at the point, joining the infirmary ward (fracture of the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee) this week.
Jackson, who ranks No. 3 on the NBA's all-time assists list, understands the impact of the dearth of point guards better than most.
"That’s awfully tough, awfully tough," Jackson said. "It’s tough to respond to it as a coach, as a team. The benefit that they have is they have guys that are comfortable handling the basketball even though they’re not point guards. So, [Xavier] Henry handling the ball. Nick Young, we know he likes handling the basketball. So it’s tough, but they don’t run traditional offense where you need a point guard."
Farmar is able to participate in light basketball activities and will be re-evaluated Tuesday, meaning he could play Christmas Day against Miami if he is cleared. Blake practiced before the Warriors game with a bulky brace on his right elbow, but will be out at least another month. Both Nash (out another month at least) and Bryant (out a minimum of six weeks) did not accompany the team on its two-game trip through Golden State and Phoenix.
It is the third consecutive road trip on which Nash has not accompanied the team; he spent the past two in Vancouver, British Columbia, with his personal trainer, Rick Celebrini.
"He’s the consummate professional," D'Antoni said when asked if he was concerned about Nash losing a connection with his teammates by spending so much time away from them. "He’s doing what he’s supposed to do. We want him to get ready. If that helps at all, then there’s no use coming on the trip. He’s seen San Francisco. It’s nice, but he doesn’t need to come on this. He’s good."
Is Nash still a part of the team's fabric?
"I think we go forward and we don’t know," D'Antoni said. "If he’s ready, yeah, he will be. But we don’t know that yet."
Nash's absence only underscores the challenge D'Antoni has faced since taking over the team, but the coach says that his working conditions have improved.
"These are good guys," D'Antoni said. "Last year was pretty much a test. This is a little bit easier."
D'Antoni made it sound like this season, which has involved 13 different starting lineups for the Lakers through the first 27 games, was just business as usual.
"Every season is challenging, especially when you come to teams with high expectations, rightly or not rightly," D'Antoni said. "But, it’s still a great job so I’m not lamenting anything."
Despite the Lakers -- who were swept out of the first round last year by the San Antonio Spurs -- and the Warriors -- who bowed out to the Spurs in a tough 4-2 series in the second round -- coming into the season with vastly different expectations, they have played to a near-deadlock through the first third of the schedule, with Golden State coming into Saturday 14-13 and L.A. at 13-13.
"To be honest with you, we expected to win," D'Antoni said. "I think everybody expects to win. If we lose, go ahead and lose about 10 in a row and see how the pressure is. They still have pressure. They’re professional players. So they know it."