Mike D’Antoni made his long-awaited debut as Lakers head coach on Tuesday, but the team’s previous win over the Rockets looked much more like his style. Nevertheless, the substance was there as L.A. overcame some mistakes to get a 95-90 win over the Nets that pushed the team over the .500 mark for the first time this season.
The first half of this one looked like what we might expect to see when the Lakers face quality teams while running this new system. There was plenty of trading baskets, and the Nets were able to get a lot of good looks as L.A. was slow in its defensive rotations, when they bothered to rotate at all. Brook Lopez was the main beneficiary of the New Jersey offense, getting 12 first-quarter points and ending up with 17 by halftime, scoring both inside and out.
Deron WIlliams did the damage for the Nets in the second quarter, straight up abusing Lakers guard Darius Morris for 10 points in less than six minutes. But after scoring 34 points in the second to take a one-point lead into the locker room at the half, the Nets managed just 33 points the rest of the way, thanks to a combined 5-of-21 shooting from Williams and Joe Johnson in the final two periods, and a dismal team shooting of under 33 percent.
As is going to be the case more often than not, while New Jersey struggled to manufacture offense, the Lakers had too much talent to ultimately be stifled. L.A. got huge games from Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, and Metta World Peace — the four combined to go 29-of-54 from the field, good for 53.7 percent, and good enough to beat just about anyone.
There were some bumps along the way, however. The Lakers were outrebounded, and gave up 14 on the offensive end. The reserves are still giving way too much of the game away when the starters try to get some rest, and over the course of the season, heavy-minute efforts like this one where four of the five starters play 38 minutes or more (with Howard surpassing 40) are going to add up.
And of course, we have the free throw shooting. A horrific 19-of-37 night from the line, led by Howard going 7-of-19 (including an airball) is certainly cause for concern. Avery Johnson tried to exploit the problem further by intentionally fouling Howard sporadically in the fourth quarter, but didn’t fully commit and picked an extremely curious time to do so.
Brooklyn trailed 77-73 with 10:32 to play in the game. The Nets went on an 11-1 run to lead 84-78 with 5:22 to play, holding the Lakers without a field goal for over five minutes, the last two while L.A. had its starters back on the floor. That was when Johnson first called for the “Hack-a-Dwight,” and did it once more a few possessions later. Howard made one of two free throws each time, getting the Lakers a free point with no time having run off the clock, which is pretty important when a team is losing and there’s only a few minutes left to play.
Bryant took over for L.A. down the stretch, scoring his team’s last eight points — six of which came from the free throw line — in the game’s final two minutes to close this one out.
This was a good win for the Lakers, their first over a quality team on the young season, and their first while facing adversity under their new head coach. It wasn’t as aesthetically pleasing as their last outing, or as run-and-gun as it could be under D’Antoni once Steve Nash returns and the team has some time to get clicking under the new system. But wins are beautiful no matter how they come, and that’s especially true for a team as talented as this one that began the year with such a rocky start.