D'Antoni Takes the Practice Floor
New Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni really wanted to make his sideline debut on Sunday evening, but two people who know better – head trainer Gary Vitti, and his wife, Laurel — helped convince him not to push it.
So he watched from the locker room as Kobe Bryant ran high screen rolls towards his 18th career triple-double and the Lakers played open and free in a 119-108 victory over Houston.
The extra day off the surgically repaired knee seems to have helped, as D'Antoni ran Monday's practice without the help of a crutch, even if resting periodically in a chair on the sideline.
"It's a lot better, every day it gets tenfold better," he said. "Hopefully, because of that I'll be ready to go, but it's sore … I'm anxious to go. Watching the game in the back is driving my crazy – I suffer back there more than I would on the floor, I just want to make sure it's right."
What's been right, for two games, is L.A.'s offense. They shot 54 percent against Houston towards those 119 points and 47 percent against Phoenix to score 114, albeit against two teams not known for their defending.
"It's like any good system with fundamental teachings and concepts that the players have to grasp and execute to be successful," said Clifford, in his first season in L.A. "It's built around the pace and energy you play with, spacing, guys being unselfish and in the right spots and knowing their roles. Mike is an excellent teacher, and he has such a great knowledge and understanding of players in the NBA already that he's able to hit it running."
Even with his top two point guards out and Bryant helping Darius Morris pick up the slack, D'Antoni couldn't have minded seeing 114 and 119 points in consecutive games from a team that had been averaging 96.5 per game. That said, he recognizes there is a long way to go to reach peak efficiency.
"It takes a while, it's habits," D'Antoni allowed. "We'll get it up there, then when Steve (Nash) comes back, we'll push it up a notch."
Ah, right. The one player in the league who can best run D'Antoni's system happens to be on his roster, if still a minimum of a week away from returning from a non-displaced fracture in his leg.
A perhaps unexpected benefit of the new system has been a decrease in turnovers — 13 against Houston, 11 against Phoenix — even with an increased pace. But that shouldn't be a surprise, according to D'Antoni.
"(They) should be (down)," he said. "We tell them to make easy plays. The first good shot we take, we don't over pass, and we spread the floor where passes should be easy. Not turning it over should be a by-product."
D'Antoni has been impressed with how quickly his new players have picked up shells of his system, praising Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol in particular for how well they're running the limited parts that have been put in. Gasol has been impressed with the short, direct practices.
"That’s one of the differences, I guess," the Spaniard conceded. "We’re spending less time on the floor and it makes it a little easier that way. It should be a fun process and we should have fun in practice and have fun playing in the games."
Meanwhile, L.A.'s bench production has been solid in the last two games, with Jordan Hill, Antawn Jamison, Jodie Meeks and Chris Duhon finding various ways to contribute on both ends. Each has alluded to the confidence D'Antoni instills as a beneficial factor; for example, he told Meeks: "The only time (you) need to shoot the ball is when (you) touch the ball."
"I'd always try to instill (confidence) into a player," said D'Antoni. "They're here for a reason. You don't make the NBA because you can't play. There's something they can do, we just have to find out what it is, let them do it and feel uninhibited in that area."
Whether he's able to do that from the sideline or the locker room? We'll find out tomorrow when the Brooklyn Nets are at Staples Center for a 7:30 p.m. tip.