HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Los Angeles Lakers fans won’t have to wait any longer to see their new head coach, crutches and all, working the sidelines. Mike D’Antoni will indeed make his debut on the job tonight when the Lakers host the Brooklyn Nets (10:30 p.m. ET on NBA TV).
There were conflicting stories Monday regarding his status. But Lakers spokesman John Black confirmed to USA Today‘s Rachel Shuster this afternoon that D’Antoni, who is rehabbing from knee replacement surgery, will be on the bench tonight, with the blessing of the team’s longtime athletic trainer Gary Vitti:
“Mike told me he won’t let Gary talk him out of it tonight,” Black told Shuster.
D’Antoni’s been on the job, technically speaking, for nearly two weeks. Mike Brown was fired after a 1-4 start and D’Antoni was tabbed as his replacement two days later, getting the nod over Phil Jackson.
But Bernie Bickerstaff has been in the big chair on the sideline in the meantime, piling up a 4-1 record on his watch as the Lakers have clawed their way back to .500 in the interim. Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard and the crew have played just fine during that span, losing only to the San Antonio Spurs on a Danny Green buzzer-beater on Nov. 14.
But the Lakers have been working within D’Antoni’s system since he took over and the improved results are evident. It’s a change that hasn’t been lost on some of the more vocal critics of the hire, as Shuster pointed out, guys like Lakers legend Magic Johnson, who favored a Jackson return to the Lakers over going in a new direction with D’Antoni:
“I must admit the @Lakers are more fun to watch under coach D’Antoni’s system,” Johnson tweeted, comparing the team’s energy now vs. early in the season under Brown. “Coach D’Antoni has the @Lakers playing a more uptempo offense with great ball movement.”
D’Antoni is returning just in time for a rugged road stretch that will see the Lakers play in Sacramento (Wednesday) and in Memphis (Friday) and Dallas (Saturday) before returning home for a three-game home stand next week.
But you better believe all eyes will be on the Staples Center tonight for D’Antoni’s debut!