With an incredulous tone and a sarcastic laugh, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni spilled out a season-long’s worth of frustration after putting up arguably their worst performance of the season in a 103-100 loss Friday to the Washington Wizards.
“I told them, when I put our hands in and you’ve probably seen it,” D’Antoni said. “We say ‘Championship’ and go out, that’s laughable. Championship? You got to be kidding me.”
D’Antoni wasn’t done.
On the same week Laker legends Jerry West and Magic Johnson argued the Lakers would become “dangerous” in the postseason, D’Antoni poured a good amount of cold water into that argument.
“If we don’t change, we obviously won’t make the playoffs,” D’Antoni said. “But if we do, then we’ll get blown out of the playoffs.”
The Lakers (36-34) have a 1 1/2 game lead over the Utah Jazz (34-35) for the eighth and final playoff spot. That, in part, appears to be part of the problem. The Lakers have stayed in the playoff hunt partly because Utah has gone 3-8 in March. The Lakers are 7-4 this month, but that featured come-back victories against bad teams (New Orleans, Toronto) and wins with a significantly shorthanded roster (Atlanta, Chicago).
The Lakers have also proclaimed to have “restarted” the season multiple times, leaving D’Antoni cynical on whether the latest game will spark the Lakers into playing better.
“Yeah, that’s a good question. Give me about a million bucks on that question,” D’Antoni said. “I don’t know. I have no idea. It’s happened 85 times so you would think sooner or later they’ll get the message. But no, no. Just as soon as we get a little bit, like, a 16-point lead or, “Oh, we’re ahead one game of Utah. Now it’s a breeze.’ Everybody says we’re in the playoffs. We’re one game ahead.’ Well, guess what? We’re still one game ahead.”
But that had nothing to do with the Lakers’ play against Washington.
They blew an 18-point lead mainly because the Lakers exhibited poor ball movement in the second half and didn’t have anyone guarding former Laker Trevor Ariza (25 points on 9 of 15 shooting).
D’Antoni didn’t mince words on Ariza’s coming-out party.
“Trevor Ariza got 12 attempts on 3’s and he’s wide open,” D’Antoni said. “That’s inexcusable. It’s just a matter of lapses. gambling or I’m not going to play hard tonight because we’ll just outscore them. That’s why we dug ourselves a hole this year and we’re digging it again.”
D’Antoni sounded coy about the Lakers’ ball movement evaporating.
“I don’t know. That’s a good question,” D’Antoni said, laughing. “I wish I knew. What, you want to throw me a piece of dynamite? I’m not going there.”
But it amounted to the same answer.
After playing a facilitating role en route to 11 assists, Bryant took over in the fourth quarter and finished with 21 points on 8 of 18 shooting. His 13 fourth-quarter points featured a reverse dunk and a three-pointer that cut the Lakers’ deficit to 101-100 with 2.3 seconds remaining. But Bryant missed the final attempt. More importantly, Bryant didn’t show an ounce of defensive effort the whole game.
“We didn’t play hard enough,” D’Antoni said. “We think we can just figure stuff out.”
Why with 12 games left in the season?
“There’s no explanation for it. I don’t know,” D’Antoni said. “I can’t explain it. Every time we get up 16, it’s like well, ‘We’re really good and we don’t have to play hard.’ You start messing with the game. You start with not moving the ball. You start with, ‘I’m going to go one on one every time,’ you start messing with the basketball gods. And they get you. The ball will roll around and go in for them and the ball will roll around and go out for us because we’re messing with the game.”
D’Antoni sounded pretty pessimistic that mindset will suddenly change.
“Until they understand the importance of every possession offensively and defensively, and every time, they gotta come out with some kind of determination to be a good basketball team, then we’re just fooling ourselves,” D’Antoni said. “And right now, that’s what we’re doing. We’re making a sham-mockery of it.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org