Two days passed and suddenly Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni changed his mind on seemingly everything regarding his team.
The Lakers’ 103-100 loss Friday to Washington left him griping about the team’s inconsistent ball movement and poor defense on Trevor Ariza, two qualities presumably aimed at Kobe Bryant. He facilitated the offense before taking over in the fourth quarter, while leaving Ariza open on nearly every shot. D’Antoni made it fairly he referred to the Lakers’ star without even mentioning Bryant’s when pressed about the stalled ball movement in the fourth quarter.
“That’s a good question. What, are you gonna throw me a piece of dynamite?” he said.
Apparently, D’Antoni’s criticism wasn’t explosive.
“Am I talking about Kobe [Bryant]?” D’Antoni said after practice Sunday at the team’s facility in El Segundo. “I’m talking about Kobe, I’m talking about me, I’m talking about Dwight (Howard), I’m talking about Steve Nash, I’m talking about everybody. Now, to say one is more guilty than the other? No. It doesn’t really matter. It’s, ‘The Lakers screwed up.’ And the Lakers are going to go forward and try to fix it.”
The Lakers (36-34) enter tonight’s game against the Golden State Warriors (40-31) at Oracle Arena with a 1 1/2 game lead over the Utah Jazz (34-35) for the eighth playoff spot. The Lakers trail the Warriors by 3 1/2 games for a sixth seed, a prospect D’Antoni concedes “will be hard.”
Not that he’s worried.
“I’m just happy to get into the playoffs. I don’t care what [seed] it is,” D’Antoni said. “If we play to our max [potential], I’m not afraid of anybody. I don’t care who it is.”
He suggested otherwise after the Wizards loss.
“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.”
How’d D’Antoni’s sentiments suddenly change?
“You have so much adrenaline going in you that it’s tough not to be like that,” D’Antoni said. “The clear thing is I’m mad at myself, I’m mad at the coaches, I’m mad at the players. We’re all mad. We all have to do a better job. We all have to guard against things like that. It happens.”
It’s unclear how the Lakers responded to his message.
Bryant didn’t speak to reporters Sunday. But he used crude language in a Tweet owning up to his poor game before vowing to “flush it.” When a reporter relayed the summation of D’Antoni’s analysis, Lakers center Dwight Howard blinked his eyes and said, “OK.”
“That game is over with,” Howard said. “There’s no need to look back at it. We know we made a lot of mistakes, but we can’t dwell on our mistakes. We talk about them and we move forward and try not to make them again. I’m not going to keep dwelling on that loss. As disappointing as it was, we got a chance to make it up.”
The Lakers say they took a first step by having what they called a “spirited” practice, including a full-court scrimmage
Even with D’Antoni’s softened language, however, he still held firm on a few areas. D’Antoni lamented how Washington scored 21 points off 17 turnovers. D’Antoni told his players about the need to make the “easy play.” And he reiterated inconsistent ball movement remains the primary factor why Howard’s field-goal attempts fluctuate. He had zero shots in the fourth quarter against Washington after scoring 20 points.
“He has to have the ball somehow,” D’Antoni said. “If you make the easy play, the ball will find him. We just don’t do that.”
How challenging has that become for Howard?
“I just have to go back on the defensive end and make a stop and help my teammates out and not get frustrated,” he said. “Whatever happens, I’ll continue to play my game.”
Meanwhile, D’Antoni vows he will “try to pick spots” in expressing his emotions “because you can’t just be a mad man all the time.” That’s why the Lakers ended Sunday’s practice huddling up and yelling “championship” a mere two days after D’Antoni proclaimed the routine “laughable” considering the team’s play.
“Whether it meant a little more, I don’t know,” D’Antoni said. “We’re not backing off. We’re going [for the title.].”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org