Coach: Championship 'laughable'
LOS ANGELES -- In a season in which the Los Angeles Lakers have pushed the reset button seemingly a half-dozen times already, Friday's 103-100 loss to the Washington Wizards left coach Mike D'Antoni sounding like he'd prefer to reach for the off switch at this point.
"This is a good team that just for whatever reason can't collectively mentally get stimulated to [play hard] every time," D'Antoni said after the Lakers wasted an 18-point first-half lead. "I told them today, we put our hands in [the huddle], and you guys have probably seen it, we say, 'Championship,' and go out [on the floor]. That's laughable. Championship? You got to be kidding me. Nobody understands the importance of every possession offensively and defensively. Every time they got to come out with some kind of determination to be a good basketball team, and [until] then, we're just, we're fooling ourselves. Right now, that's what we're doing. We're just making a 'sham-mockery' out of it."
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The game marked the Lakers' second straight loss to an opponent with a record hovering around 20 games below .500 after L.A. was blown out 99-76 in Phoenix on Monday.
"There's no explanation for it," D'Antoni said. "I can't explain it, but every time we get up 16 [points], it's like, 'Well, we're really good and we don't have to play hard,' and we start messing with the game. You start messing with not moving the ball. You start messing with, 'I'm just going to go one-on-one every time.' You start messing with the basketball gods, and they get you.
"That ball will roll around and go in for [the opponent] and it will roll around and go out for us because we're messing with the game. If we don't change that, obviously we won't make the playoffs, but if we do, we'll get blown out in the playoffs. You can't be a fairly good team or even a good team without passing the basketball, without understanding what we're doing defensively and honing in and doing it. You can't do it. You can't do it. It's impossible."
With the loss, L.A. still leads Utah by 1½ games for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Lakers have lost three of their past five games but have been able to maintain a hold on a postseason berth thanks to the Jazz going 2-8 over their past 10 games.
"You would think sooner or later they'd get the message, but no," D'Antoni said. "As soon as we get a little bit, like a 16-point lead or, 'Oh, we're ahead one game of Utah; now it's a breeze. Everybody says we're in the playoffs, we're one game ahead!'
"You can't mess with a game as you can't mess with a season as you can't mess with a schedule. You got to go out, you got to beat Phoenix, you got to beat Atlanta, you got to beat these teams. You got to come ready to play. We don't all the time, and we might come ready, but by halftime it might be gone. Or we might come out at halftime and be OK, and then the fourth quarter it's gone. Somewhere somebody is going to have to say, 'Enough is enough and let's play.' Every possession. But no. We don't. We don't."
The Lakers led 35-19 at the end of the first quarter Friday, collecting 10 assists on 13 baskets as they shot 68.4 percent from the field. The fourth quarter was a different story, as L.A. tried to cling to a two-point lead heading into the final period and went just 9-for-20 from the field as a team -- with Kobe Bryant going 4-for-10.
D'Antoni was asked what the cause was for the relative lack of ball movement late in the game.
"That's a good question," he said, sarcastically. "I wish I knew. What are you, going to throw me a piece of dynamite?"
Dwight Howard scored 20 points on 8-for-9 shooting but had zero shot attempts in the fourth quarter.
"We just got to play together," Howard said when asked about the discrepancy.
Bryant blamed the loss on overconfidence.
"I think the game becomes really easy and you think you can score whenever you want to and get stops whenever you want to and then all of the sudden momentum swings," Bryant said after finishing with 21 points and 11 assists while shooting 8-for-18 from the field, including missing a potential game-tying 3 at the buzzer.
D'Antoni echoed the same thoughts.
"What happened was we didn't play hard enough," D'Antoni said. "We think we can just figure stuff out. Trevor Ariza's got 12 attempts at 3s and he's wide open. That's inexcusable. It's just a matter of lapses or gambling or, 'I'm not going to play hard tonight because we'll just outscore them.' That why we dug ourselves a hole in the first part of the year and now we're digging it again. Obviously, we put ourselves in a big hole. We'll talk about it and we'll try to change it around, but we got to have some effort out there. Mental effort, mostly."
Steve Nash said the Lakers "played with the game, instead of played the game," and did not disagree with D'Antoni questioning the team's effort.
"Obviously the last thing you want to hear right now is that our effort wasn't up to par, but if you look at the tape, I'm sure there's plenty of examples where we just didn't give the second effort, and that can be a killer," Nash said.
The Lakers begin a four-game road trip Monday against Golden State.
"You have to keep the screws on," Bryant said. "We got to keep the intensity and play hard."
"We go on the road and we got four games in a row -- one's more important than the other," D'Antoni said. "All of them. We got to win them all and hopefully we can change it around. They can surprise me, no doubt about it. They just got to turn it on."