Although it’s not the easiest way to take charge of an NBA team, the Lakers are pretty sure their new coach was pleased by what he saw from a short distance.
Kobe Bryant had 31 points, Metta World Peace hit five 3-pointers while scoring 22 points, and the Lakers played D’Antoni’s style of up-tempo basketball in a 114-102 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Friday night.
Dwight Howard had 18 points and 12 rebounds as the Lakers improved to 3-1 under interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff, who filled in because D’Antoni wasn’t quite ready for sideline duty while recovering from surgery earlier this month. The Lakers don’t have D’Antoni’s offence figured out after just one practice, but they played with an aggression and urgency they had lacked during their early season stumbles.
The result was more than Phoenix could handle.
“That really is his offence, for us to kind of read each other and react to each other, kind of go out there and play on the fly,” Bryant said. “He has certain things that he wants to put in that gives us some framework to try to get some easy opportunities, but for the most part, he wants us to go out there and play.”
Even though it happened against the defensively questionable Suns, the Lakers quickly lived up to D’Antoni’s bold Thursday prediction about their offensive capabilities: “If we’re not scoring 110, 115 points, we need to talk.”
Los Angeles took charge of an entertaining game with a 17-2 run spanning the final two quarters led by Bryant and Jordan Hill. The Lakers surpassed 100 points with 9:26 to play on a three-point play by Howard, who is widely expected to thrive in a pick-and-roll offence.
While World Peace relished his 3-point attempts, Pau Gasol scored 12 points on a series of spot-up jumpers in the first quarter before finishing with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
“Not as many post-ups,” Gasol said in describing the offence. “More transition and quicker shots, I guess. Also against a team that plays that pace, it helps your offence, let’s say. … We played pretty simple basketball and just played off each other.”
D’Antoni is still on crutches after surgery earlier this month, but he’s expected to debut on the Lakers’ bench Sunday night against Houston. Bickerstaff pledged to run elements of the new coach’s offensive sets against the Suns, who still follow many of D’Antoni’s tenets under coach Alvin Gentry.
The night was a pleasure for Bickerstaff, who joined fired coach Mike Brown’s staff in September and then agreed to preside over the transition period.
The veteran coach’s .750 winning percentage with the Lakers “will get me a Popsicle,” Bickerstaff said.
“I (think) it would be a footnote, and it would be something that’s in history that maybe my grandkids can talk about,” added Bickerstaff, who hasn’t said whether D’Antoni will keep him around. “It’s all fun, and that’s what life is about. Don’t take yourself too seriously, and enjoy the ride.”
Goran Dragic scored 22 points for the Suns, who have lost three of four.
Luis Scola scored 18 points, while Michael Beasley added 14 points and a career-high nine assists. The game is Phoenix’s only road contest in a six-game stretch through Thanksgiving, but the Suns must rush home to face defending champion Miami on Saturday night.
“That team is in another area as to where we are and where we’re trying to get to,” Gentry said. “They’ve got much bigger fish to fry, and we’ve got to get ourselves to the point where we become significant again. And the only way to do that is to be consistent.”
Steve Nash missed his seventh straight game for the Lakers with a small fracture in his left leg, keeping him out of his first potential matchup with the franchise with which he spent the past eight seasons, winning two NBA MVP awards and reaching two Western Conference finals with D’Antoni on the bench.
During the third quarter, the Lakers announced Nash will miss at least another week before getting re-examined next weekend. The Lakers are in the midst of a heavy slate of games, meaning the point guard is likely to miss 12 straight games before the Lakers’ next projection on his return.
The results of D’Antoni’s arrival seemed obvious from the opening quarter, when the Lakers scored 35 points and ran the court with an urgency they haven’t consistently shown in years. Both teams traded significant runs in the second quarter, with the Lakers taking a 62-57 lead at halftime after closing with a 12-2 surge.
“We gave ourselves a chance, but we had a lot of unforced turnovers,” said Jermaine O’Neal, who scored 12 points. “They capitalized on the turnovers that we had in that one spurt in the third, and they scored in transition. That was the difference-maker.”
NOTES: The Suns have trailed by double digits in nine of their 10 games this season. … Eddie Murphy, Andy Garcia, Los Angeles Kings forwards Jarret Stoll and Trevor Lewis, and “2 Broke Girls” stars Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs attended the game.