NEW YORK — The timing couldn’t be worse for Mike D’Antoni, who makes his return to Madison Square Garden Thursday night, as the Lakers face the Knicks on TNT (8 p.m. ET).
Let us count the ways:
- The Lakers are now 4-8 under D’Antoni, having lost five of their last six games. And they hit a new low with a loss to the 5-18 Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday.
- The Knicks lead the Eastern Conference at 16-5 and are now 34-11 under D’Antoni’s replacement, Mike Woodson, who’s the early-season favorite for the Coach of the Year award.
- D’Antoni seemingly couldn’t find a way for his offense to work for Carmelo Anthony, who is now having the best offensive season of his career. In fact, Anthony may have been the first-quarter MVP.
- Led by Anthony, the Knicks are playing ridiculously efficient offense, scoring 110 points per 100 possessions, which ranks second in the league. D’Antoni is supposed to be the offensive genius, but New York is the most improved offensive team in the league in its first full season under Woodson.
- Meanwhile, the Lakers have allowed an atrocious 109 points per 100 possessions over the last six games, a mark that would rank last in the league.
- One of the Lakers’ biggest problems defensively is the lack of weak-side help on pick-and-rolls, and the Knicks’ Tyson Chandler is one of the best roll men in the league.
- Steve Nash still isn’t close to returning and resurrecting the Lakers’ offense, which had one of its worst games of the season in Cleveland on Tuesday. Neither is Steve Blake.
- The Knicks are 8-0 at home this season and 19-1 at MSG under Woodson. The Lakers, meanwhile, are 2-7 on the road.
As if all the above isn’t bad enough for D’Antoni, Howard Beck of the New York Times paints an even more depressing picture as the Lakers stumble into New York:
D’Antoni went to Los Angeles in search of the talent he never truly had in New York and to reunite with the point guard he so badly missed. The promise of 70 degrees and sunny didn’t hurt either.
Paradise never looked so stressful.
The stars D’Antoni was promised are injured (Steve Nash), old (Kobe Bryant) or injured and old (Pau Gasol). Dwight Howard is not entirely Dwight Howard after back surgery. The Lakers are wheezing. Magic Johnson is sniping. The fans are cranky.
So is D’Antoni, who snapped at a Los Angeles Times columnist Tuesday night, after the Lakers (9-13) lost to in Cleveland, their third straight defeat.
There are fault lines in California with less pressure on them.
Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com focuses on Kobe Bryant, who will surely want to play big on Broadway to help his team get back on track:
It sounds simple. Too simple for a team this talented. Sure, Steve Nash is still out for God knows how much longer and Pau Gasol’s knees are aching as badly as his spirit must feel after the most ineffective stretch of his career. But between Bryant and Dwight Howard, the Lakers still should have more than enough talent to get through this stretch with their heads above water.
Instead they’re drowning, trying to plug their fingers into new holes every game even as the water leaking from the old ones flows faster and more destructively. It’s baffling.
If there were answers out there, they would’ve found them already. Between Bryant, Gasol, Nash, Howard and head coach Mike D’Antoni, there’s too much experience, wisdom and basketball IQ in that locker room for the whiteboard to be so clean.
It’s not speed or athleticism either, although a little more of both would make things easier.
No, this has gone so badly, so quickly, it’s not so much answers that the Lakers are looking for anymore. It’s a belief. That this can still work. That they’re not all crazy. That they’re not all flawed.
“Togetherness,” Bryant said. “Finding a way to play that maximizes each other’s talents. I believe we have the intelligence to do it. Mike is very, very smart. Steve obviously has a high basketball IQ. Myself, Gasol, we’ve all been there before. We know how to conduct this thing. It’s just a matter of figuring that out.”
It seems near impossible, but if the Lakers can somehow figure it out on Thursday, it could be a season-altering night for D’Antoni and crew. Maybe a game against his former team, a game that D’Antoni must want more than any other, is exactly what the Lakers need to come together and play as a unit.