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D'Antoni's vision for Lakers hasn't panned out
LOS ANGELES – The Lakers are a long way from Coach Mike D'Antoni's vision upon taking over a month into the season in ways both good and bad, but some things haven't really evolved at all.
The idea that Steve Nash would come back from injury and solve all the problems on offense clearly was misguided, with the Lakers now having relegated Nash basically to a spot-up shooter who plays alongside ball-dominant Kobe Bryant.
Nash lately has been out again because of a strained right hamstring, though it's possible he comes back Tuesday vs. New Orleans. Whether it's Nash or Steve Blake playing with Bryant, there's little doubt that D'Antoni permits Bryant to orchestrate the offense and call his own number frequently.
Dwight Howard clearly was peeved after the Sunday loss to the Clippers, with the day's results leaving the Lakers a half-game behind Utah for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff.
Despite Bryant piling up assists against the double-teaming Clippers in the first half, the team offense didn't purr at all in the second half. Bryant finished 6 for 19 from the field, and Howard repeatedly gave abbreviated postgame answers that included the need to "play the right way as a team."
WORLD PEACE RETURN?
The Lakers' injury woes this season might just include a pleasant surprise here before the end.
Metta World Peace could be back from his knee surgery Sunday against San Antonio, the penultimate game of the regular season when he had initially been projected to miss at least the first round of the playoffs.
World Peace might even be able to play Friday vs. Golden State if his accelerated recovery continues. He has had minimal swelling since the procedure for torn knee cartilage and already has been shooting Saturday and Sunday. He is scheduled to run at 90 percent body weight on an anti-gravity treadmill today and then move that up to 100 percent Tuesday. At that point, the only obstacle between him returning would be basketball work.
The Lakers are unlikely to practice as a team Thursday after playing back-to-back games, but given World Peace's determination to return as soon as possible, it's not impossible that he makes it back Friday night.
Earl Clark and Pau Gasol have stepped up their games since World Peace was hurt at Golden State on March 25. But the Lakers' defense misses World Peace, who would be especially useful if the Lakers meet Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs considering his experience and skill defending Kevin Durant.
Clippers guard Jamal Crawford, whom Kobe Bryant gave his vote as NBA Sixth Man of the Year, had this to say after his team clinched its first franchise Pacific Division title Sunday at the Lakers' expense:
"Even when there really wasn't a rivalry, I'm sure the Lakers got up for the game to play the Clippers."
Well, not so much. But right now, there's nothing the Lakers or their fans can say after the team lost for the fourth time in four games against the Clippers this season.
It's not a playoff series sweep, but it's still a statement. It was their first regular-season sweep of the Lakers since the teams began playing together in Los Angeles in 1984.
The Lakers won't be drawing the Clippers in the first round and are 11 games behind them in the standings. The Lakers' greater concerns are winning enough to face San Antonio or Oklahoma City in Round 1, with them needing to lose one fewer of their remaining five games than Utah loses in its remaining four games.
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