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T.J. SIMERS

Trying to figure out Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni's dance card

Pau Gasol plays well as fill-in for Dwight Howard, but where Gasol fits in is uncertain. The only clear thing is that Lakers' victory isn't satisfying anyone.

February 01, 2013|T.J. Simers
  • Coach Mike D'Antoni cracks a slight smile during the fourth quarter of the Lakers first road win in 2013, a victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves, 111-100.
Coach Mike D'Antoni cracks a slight smile during the fourth quarter… (Jim Mone / Associated Press )

MINNEAPOLIS — I came to this walk-in freezer hoping to get the best out of the Lakers because Coach Mike D'Antoni can't always get the job done.

But I still liked his chances of winning this one. In fact, I was telling him before Friday night's game, "you've won 19 straight times over this team, so even you can't screw it up."

You know what he said.

"Oh yeah?"

He had a point, nothing a sure thing apparently if he's coaching, and while the Lakers did win they should be embarrassed.

They had a 29-point lead against one of the most inept teams known to mankind and allowed Minnesota to make it a four-point game late.

"I'm embarrassed," said D'Antoni when I brought it up.

"You should be," I agreed.

"Well good," said D'Antoni.

"So we agree," I said.

"No, we don't," said D'Antoni, and it's a wonder anyone understands this guy the way he waffles.

"They do win games here; they are a professional team," D'Antoni said in stretching the truth to make his point about the Wolves.

"Shved hit some threes and things didn't go well, but at the same time we won by 10 or 12 and we're fine."

I have no idea who Shved is either, and while a win is a win, the Lakers are not fine.

They lost to Phoenix to begin this trip, blowing a 13-point, fourth-quarter lead. And they were hanging on against a Minnesota, which missed 10 free throws.

This is supposed to be a Lakers' team making a run for the playoffs. Where's the killer instinct, especially when playing teams that were certified dead long ago?

Now the Lakers have a center in Dwight Howard who will try to make a go of it the rest of the season with a bum shoulder.

This game was such a gimme, I was telling D'Antoni before it began, he could even start Pau Gasol and he never wants to do that.

"Well, I thought Robert [Sacre] was playing pretty well," said D'Antoni, and I think he was joking, but you know what he thinks of Gasol.

D'Antoni had to find a replacement for Howard, who was sent back to L.A. for treatment, so he really had no choice but start Gasol.

"This is your chance to get back into Gasol's good graces," I told D'Antoni, who has never really figured out what he has in Gasol.

"We hung out the other night; we're good," D'Antoni said. "I'm sure he wants to start. I know he wants to start. I just kind of got to coach the team the way I think it's better."

So he doesn't think Gasol makes the Lakers better when Gasol starts?

"It's not a personality conflict, and it's not a dance contest," D'Antoni said, and I know of no one who suggested it was.

"I like him," D'Antoni said. "My dance card is open. If you want to dance, I'm good."

First time I can recall a coach losing his train of thought and asking whether we might have the next dance. I'm very confused.

I checked in with Gasol who walked by me earlier singing, "Don't stop believing," after hearing he would get the start.

"I'm nervous," Gasol said with more than a hint of sarcasm.

Gasol then went out and led all Lakers' scorers with 22 points because he's a really good player, replacing Kwame Brown a few years back and allowing Kobe Bryant to win two more rings.

D'Antoni put Gasol on the bench and Kobe told Gasol, "don't sugarcoat your disappointment," while knowing Gasol would react like a pro on the court and play all out.

Yet someone asked D'Antoni earlier how he might get Gasol to buy into his way of thinking, as scary a thought as I can imagine, thinking like D'Antoni.

"Pay him $19 million. I don't know, that should help," D'Antoni said, by way of reminding everyone that Gasol is paid well, and there is no reason to feel sorry for him.

"Hey, I don't think it's a story," D'Antoni said, while forgetting everything with the Lakers is a story because it is Los Angeles after all. "He wants to play. I got it. And we're going to play him. I don't see the story."

I told him to stick to coaching basketball, and we'll take care of the stories. He then made the point that he never reads the stories.

He's lying, of course, because he said so.

"If my lips are moving there's a good chance I'm not telling the truth," D'Antoni said, and so when he tells everyone the Lakers are fine, is he really saying they are not?

So we really do agree.

Two of the Super Bowl bets in Las Vegas include Kobe Bryant's performance Sunday against Detroit.

Who would you take to score more points? San Francisco or Kobe, keeping in mind that Kobe insists he will continue to be the facilitator?

And what will end up being the higher number, the points scored by Bryant plus 51/2, or receiving yards by San Francisco wide receiver Randy Moss minus 51/2?

I'll take Bryant in both cases, because I told him about the propositions and he won't be able to keep himself from giving the 49ers and Moss a big number to chase.

After all, he's picking the 49ers to win.

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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