Wednesday, November 21, 2012
'Showtime'? More like 'Slowtime'
By Ramona Shelburne
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Mike D'Antoni didn't misspeak the other day. I checked the tape and he clearly said the Los Angeles Lakers would be trying to reprise "Showtime" in his up-tempo offense.
It's just that whatever it was the Lakers played in a strange and lethargic 113-97 loss to the lowly Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night was so far from anything that would ever be called "Showtime" I had to go back to confirm.
"If we're going to play 'Showtime,' my God, they just closed the whole theater on us," D'Antoni said after Wednesday's game. "'Showtime?' That was Muppet time or something? I don't know what that was.
"It was like watching sap come out of a tree. You can't do that. That's energy. We've gotta go."
So no, D'Antoni's second game as the Lakers' new coach didn't go all that well. His team fell to a pedestrian 6-6 on the season, with a back-to-back set in Memphis and Dallas ahead.
Not the start he was hoping for. But also nothing really to worry about, just yet, as his new team gets acclimated to the way he wants them to play.
"I think you always have a little bit of a shock when a guy comes in new and you start off like puppies out there," D'Antoni said of the Lakers 5-1 homestand after Mike Brown was fired. "Now it's back to reality a little bit."
What's a little more troubling, though, is that Dwight Howard didn't misspeak, either.
Howard took plenty of time after the game to collect his thoughts following one of the more frustrating games of his career. In all, he played 41 minutes, took just four shots, grabbed nine rebounds and got to the line just four times.
Let that sink in a little bit: The most dominant center in the league got off just four shots against the Sacramento Kings in 41 minutes in an offense that's supposed to get him nothing but open looks and thundering dunks off pick-and-rolls.
When Howard finally broke his silence, he had little to say: "There's no explanation for it. We've got another game coming up, so there's no need to go back to tonight's game. It's over with."
Asked when the last time he'd ever taken only four shots, Howard looked up and said tersely, "Tonight."
Asked if he was confident this was an aberration and this wouldn't happen again, Howard shook his head and said, "If it happens, it happens. We've just got to find ways to win games. We've got a long season. We can't get discouraged."
Asked if he and his teammates were tired from playing in the second night of a back-to-back in D'Antoni's fast-paced style of play, he said, simply, "Yeah. We were tired. But we've still got to play and play as hard as we can. They played harder than us from the beginning to the end. It's tough to play with fatigue, but we've got to find ways to stick together and win games."
Eventually, he said, "It has nothing to do with Mike, his offense or his defense." But that took a little while to come out.
None of this means the Lakers have a problem or that Howard has any problem with D'Antoni. But all of this means that incorporating Howard into this style of play sooner rather than later is vitally important to a team with aspirations as high as the Lakers'.
Howard can be a force in this type of offense. That much is already clear to everyone. But right now it feels forced.
More than once on Wednesday, D'Antoni lamented that he's having to install his offense without the guy who has run it better than anyone -- Steve Nash.
"When we get Steve Nash back, that'll be a jolt of adrenaline for everybody," he said. "We'll get him and Steve Blake back and those are big jolts, and that will happen soon."
But while Nash remains out with a fractured leg and Blake sits with an abdominal injury, the point guard duties have fallen to second-year man Darius Morris and veteran Chris Duhon, who mostly just bring the ball up the court and pass it to Kobe Bryant, who then initiates the offense.
Bryant had another stellar game, scoring 38 points on an efficient 11-for-20 shooting effort in 38 minutes. But at moments on Wednesday it seemed like he was the only reason the Lakers were even competitive.
Sacramento outscored the Lakers 50-22 in the paint as Pau Gasol and Howard combined to shoot 5-for-14 from the field and score only 15 points. Outside of Bryant, the rest of the Lakers shot 40 percent from the field (18-for-45).
"Kobe was just unbelievable," D'Antoni said. "I told the guys, 'The guy is almost 50 years old, my God. We can't rely on that. We've got to come out and play.'
Bryant had written earlier in the day on his Facebook page that his ankle was "throbbing" after the Lakers' 95-90 win over the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday night. But following Wednesday's game, he downplayed the physical toll his increased playmaking duties have taken on him.
"I can keep it up all year," Bryant said. "The game's pretty easy for me. I'm not working too hard. The shots that I made were all jumpers. Bringing the ball up, having to kind of initiate the offense and score and things like that, that's making me work a little bit more than I will when Gatsby gets back. When Gatsby gets back, I won't have to do that."
Gatsby, of course, is Nash. And the expectation from all corners is that he'll be the guy to make this all work great.