It was almost predestined to fail. The struggling Los Angeles Lakers are now working out of the American Midwest while attempting to right the ship without the injured Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, and their first game of the road trip included a visit to Cleveland. Usually no biggie, the Cavs entered Tuesday night 4-17, but this contest featured the return of 2011-12 NBA Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving after he missed three weeks with a fractured finger in his left hand. With adrenaline taking over for Kyrie and Chris Duhon still starting at point guard for the Lakers, would the Cavs carve up Los Angeles' 15th-ranked defense?
In a word, "yes." Actually, in a word, "Kyrie" — who scored 28 points on 21 shots, alongside 11 assists and six rebounds. Los Angeles had no clue how to stop the second-year guard, and as a result they watched as their record fell to 9-13 after the 100-94 defeat.
[Related: Are the flailing Lakers beyond repair?]
And, as a result, Laker coach Mike D'Antoni was understandably prickly during his postgame interview. And that prickliness was more than exacerbated by the presence of Los Angeles Times columnist T.J. Simers, who peppered the new Lakers coach with questions about his team's same-day defensive work on Tuesday. Watch the video of their postgame discussion:
In case the audio wasn't clear enough, Simers wanted to know if the Lakers had bothered to go over defensive sets during the team's shootaround that morning, possibly unaware (or, just choosing to act unaware) that not a single shot has to go up during the course of an NBA team's shootaround. Because of the presumptive nature of Simers' questioning, and because T.J. wasn't at the shootaround, D'Antoni relayed that the columnist was "starting to piss [him] off."
Dating back (by my count) to Del Harris' time in Los Angeles, Simers has been known for years for his pointed (and, some would suggest, showy) press conference questions. I care not to question his basketball credentials at this point, so perhaps the fewer words I write on the subject the better.
Numerous observers of the Lakers this season have concluded that the team's main issues on that end come in the form of the squad's personnel, and interest level. The time may soon come for us to rail against Mike D'Antoni for his supposed defensive ennui, but there's not a lot he can do about someone like Chris Duhon being made to look a fool by a youngster many agree may be this league's most electric guard.
And until Dwight Howard can regain his Defensive Player of the Year form, the Lakers don't stand a chance with this rotation.
Kobe Bryant has been giving a lick and a promise — to borrow a phrase from his former mentor in Tex Winter — to defense for years. It's what allows him the legs to drop 42 in a game this deep into his career. Dwight Howard looks nothing like the player that terrorized NBA offenses from 2008 to 2011, Jordan Hill's defensive footwork is still lacking, and Chris Duhon has fallen off significantly since his time as a hoped-for defensive stopper in Chicago.
The Los Angeles Lakers may have the finest defensive player of this current generation, and someone that could go down as one of the all-time greats on that end, but he's having precious little impact right now as he attempts to work his way back into Dwight Howard-styled play. Assuming Dwight wants to work his way back into All-Defensive prominence in Los Angeles.
[Related: NBA Power Rankings: Lakers keep dropping]
And, as an aside, D'Antoni is correct in pointing out that Los Angeles' 13 first-half turnovers put them in an impossible position on the defensive end. The Doberman-styled 1992 Bulls, coached by Simers' longtime combatant in Phil Jackson, couldn't have prevented an offensive onslaught after a showing like that. Those turnovers are the reason Los Angeles entered the second half down 15.
Simers is allowed to ask those questions, and Mike D'Antoni is allowed to tell him what he thinks of those questions. Nobody did anything wrong here, unless one of the sides in this back and forth set out to draw attention to themselves as they engaged in the testy discussion.
We'll leave it to you, the reader, to determine if that was the case for Mr. Simers, and/or Mr. D'Antoni.
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