The Los Angeles Lakers’ roller-coaster season took another turn Wednesday when they found out Pau Gasol could miss four to six weeks. The news comes at a time where they’ve won six of their last seven games, climbing within three games of eighth place in the West.
Nonetheless, coach Mike D’Antoni says the team has enough weapons to continue winning, and that the bottom line is the Lakers have to win enough to get in the playoffs and hope that everyone is healthy by then.
Mike D’Antoni joined ESPN Los Angeles with Mason and Ireland to discuss what has helped the Lakers turn the corner lately, the transformation in Kobe Bryant’s game, the biggest misconception about him, the play of Earl Clark, injuries taking their toll, how he looks at the big picture at this point and what it’s like to coach in L.A. compared to New York.
You guys played without Metta World Peace and Dwight Howard and lost Pau Gasol on Tuesday. How did you beat the Nets?:
“I thought guys, everybody that got on the floor, contributed in a positive manner. And then obviously what Kobe did in the last three minutes, he took over a lot of scoring. … Everybody did something good. We’re lucky to get the win, but we’ll take it.”
What has helped you guys turn the corner on this recent stretch where you’ve won six of seven games?:
“Probably could be tracked back to around the Memphis time that we were on the road and things were going bad and people just weren’t happy. The ball wasn’t moving and everybody was getting upset with the roles and everything else. And we all had it out and tried to get it straight. Guys kind of took it to heart and started changing and things have gotten better from there.”
Did you think Kobe was capable of transforming his game the way he has?:
“No, you know he’s capable. I think that his competitiveness does not surprise me. What he tries to do to win does not surprise me. It’s sometimes hard to change things in the middle of a long career and it’s hard to get where he’s gotten where he has figured out what makes a team run better. He’s done a great job of distributing the basketball. … No, whatever he does does not surprise me.”
What’s the biggest misconception about you?:
“I don’t even know what the conception is. I do not listen to you guys. … I just try to do my job as well as I can do it and figure out what makes a team win. You know, it’s pretty simple things; it’s not real difficult. It has been a tough row to hoe so far. We’re better; we’re not great right now, but we’re playing better and doing a better job.”
On those that seem to think you’re married to one system and aren’t flexible in changing it:
“I understand a little bit. We had a system that we ran in Phoenix that was different and was really successful, and I liked it, obviously. It was fun to play that way, but I don’t have a system. I just think that we try to play what’s best for our personnel and what’s best for the game of basketball that’s kind of evolving in the past couple years. A lot of teams are going a lot smaller, they’re spreading the floor more and they’re using the 3-point shot a lot more. Basketball has changed. … I can play any way. I don’t care if we run or slow it down, we want to win. And we want to try to get the best out of every player.”
How much has Earl Clark surprised you?:
“I guess every day. I had no clue. He’s never really played a whole lot in the NBA. He was a high draft pick and everybody knew he had talent, but never seemed to be able to be at the right spot at the right time. We got lucky and he got lucky and things came together. … I tried almost everybody on the team except him and finally got to him, but he kept working, he’s a good guy, he came in every day and did more work than everybody else and when he got the opportunity he took advantage of it.”
How do you approach games without Howard, Gasol and Jordan Hill?:
“We’ll see what happens. Hopefully Dwight will be back fairly soon, but you approach it like any other guy. Guys have got to step up. … We still have enough pieces to win games, and that’s what we have to do. We’ve just got to keep winning and give ourselves a chance to get into the playoffs and hopefully we’ll have everybody healthy at that point.”
On being disappointed in not having Steve Nash when he took the job:
“One of the biggest disappointments when I did sign with the Lakers, I thought for sure I’ve got Steve Nash so it’ll be a fairly smooth transition. It’ll be a lot easier. I didn’t realize he would be out the next seven weeks when I got here, and that really complicated things. And also, on top of that, Steve Blake not being here. Those are two guys that I think can run any system. Like I said, we can walk it up or do whatever, but the basics of sharing the ball, spreading the floor and taking good shots is going to be the same in any system.”
How do you look at the big picture in terms of what it’ll take to make the playoffs?:
“I’m normal. I don’t sit and dwell over the standings or whatever. I think, obviously, in the last three years, you’ve got to win between 45 and 50 games. You can do the math; it comes down to that. … But we have a chance to be able to do that and that’s what our goal should be.”
How would you compare coaching in New York to coaching in L.A.?:
“It’s all the same in a sense. I think anybody in the NBA is more or less the same. I know the spotlight and the pressure is a little bit tougher. It’s tougher to keep things out of the press in New York and Los Angeles. … But the pressure, every NBA coach will tell you that they’re miserable if they’re not winning. … Every situation is a little bit unique.”
Listen to Mike D’Antoni on ESPN L.A. here (Interview begins at 12:15)