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Mike D’Antoni can win big as Lakers coach — if they defend

Nov 12, 2012, 9:40 AM EDT

New York Knicks' head coach Mike D'Antoni watches a free throw by the Miami Heat during the first half of their NBA basketball game in Miami Reuters

Mike Brown over-thought the situation. He made the Lakers offense more complex than it needed to be — when you have the Lakers’ firepower you don’t need a hybrid-Princeton offense to score a lot of points and get guys to share the ball. Brown’s new offense had the players thinking, not reacting, the result was a lot of turnovers and a 1-4 start. And Brown getting fired.

The Lakers are 2-0 under interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff in part because he stripped down the offense — Kobe Bryant called it “pick-up basketball” But in that offense the Lakers spaced the floor well, made passes and got good looks. As a team they made good decisions and Bickerstaff praised the Lakers for this after the game. (The other factor for being 2-0 was soft competition.)

For the same reason Bickerstaff had success Mike D’Antoni could work as the new head coach of the Lakers — his offense is not overly complex and is about attacking, spacing and getting easy buckets. It’s about playing on instinct. It’s an offense that is going to be hard to stop because the Lakers key players can all pass. We saw it in the Lakers win over the Kings — Dwight Howard feeling the double team in the post and whipping a pass to Metta World Peace on the weak side for a wide-open corner three. We know Steve Nash is a fit, Kobe Bryant fits in any offense and D’Antoni will love a complete player like Pau Gasol.

The Lakers are going to score a lot of points for Mike D’Antoni. I’m not one who has ever thought D’Antoni’s offense was what was holding him back from winning a ring in Phoenix (an owner not willing to spend big is a larger reason).

But will the Lakers defend well enough under D’Antoni to win a ring?

Because that’s been the real question with the Lakers all along. It doesn’t really matter what offense they run — seven seconds or less, Princeton, triangle, the stuff you junior high coach drew up — they were going to score a lot of points. They are too talented not to. But last season it was their defense that held them back and it was the main question and issue this season.

Mike D’Antoni’s teams have never been great at defense. Well, at least until his final, partial season with the Knicks, but Mike Woodson and Tyson Chandler got all the credit there. His first three seasons in New York the Knicks were never better than 22nd in the league in defensive efficiency (points given up per possession).

His Suns teams were better defensively than they got credit for — because those played at a fast pace they gave up a lot of points per game. But per possession they have up right around the league average those seasons (finishing 13th to 17th).

These Lakers need to be better than average defensively to win it all.

The biggest question for the Lakers become with a defensive force (when healthy) like Dwight Howard in the paint, can D’Anton coax enough defense out of the Lakers to win? A lot of responsibility is going to fall to Howard now, he has to be a force. Is he up to it?

After a failed stint in New York, D’Antoni should be hungry and a little bit desperate to reclaim his status as one of the NBA’s elite coaches. He’s got the team and talent to do that now. He’s got the offense that can get a stacked team a lot of points.

And he might me desperate enough to get them to defend. That is the real key.

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