He sees what he wants to see, not what we see, not the damage or despair of his leadership, not being 25th in points the paint, 29th in two point shots, 26th in third quarter margin. He sees, instead, possibilities, a fictional world. Perhaps he does not know this is the definition of insanity. Do the same thing over and over again and expect different results. But this is the D’Antoni way of covering his eyes when reality only creates an intense awareness of what has gone wrong, and that everyone, including him, has lost significance. The Lakers of 2013 are an injured bunch. What is left are players that have trouble competing, they just lose hope and forget what their purpose is on the court. This deep into the season one thing is particularly clear: D’Antoni is not a problem solver as much as he is a problem manager, especially for this group of jumbled players absent of talent. Perhaps it is in his blundering defeat that his flawed logic rises to the surface and spontaneously spills out. Or perhaps he really means what he is saying.
On Wednesday an ultra sound revealed Jordan Farmar had a torn hamstring. As fate would have it this is Jordan’s second tear in just four weeks. Surprisingly, after losing their last reliable point guard for another month, D’Antoni said in regards to the next game, “We have enough.” It was a particularly unusual thing to say even if you believe the Lakers have reached their quota of unfortunate circumstances. It was one of those comments that expresses faith in the guys D’Antoni has available to him. But really, enough for what? To match up against NBA offenses that score in the paint, create off the dribble, take mid range jumpers. And defenses that block out in the paint, rebound, contest shots. For that you need bodies and talented men. It is difficult to win even when you are healthy but this Lakers team has an illness that has infected just about everything. Consider the reality. If every player has their season average against the Utah Jazz on Friday, if they met their offensive marks, the Lakers would score 86 points. They would shoot 46%, and 40% from three. They would have 41 rebounds. They would have 13 assists and 12 turnovers. The last game in which every eligible Lakers player met their season average was…never. It has never happened. Some players have had good games, others not so much. And this too: six days ago there were beaten by this same Utah Jazz team that has won eleven games, two less games than the Lakers have.
In the game against Utah last Friday which began the second week of Lakers losses, Wesley Johnson, the Lakers starting forward, did not have a point, a rebound, an assist, a steal or a block. Unbelievable but true that the starting small forward simply vanished. Shawne Williams had 4 points. Ryan Kelly had 2 points. Robert Sacre did not score. Chris Kaman, Jodie Meeks, Xavier Henry, Jordan Farmar, Jordan Hill and Nick Young combined for 97 of the Lakers 103 points. They accounted for 32 of their 37 rebounds and 15 of their 16 assists.
With Farmar and Henry out of the lineup that is 28 points and 9 assists the Lakers are going to have to make up from the last time they played the Jazz. The last time they played the Jazz, rookie point guard Trey Burke made an impression. He had 14 rebounds and 7 assists. He shot 60% when on the season he is shooting 39%. Same for the other Jazz players, shredding the D’Antoni defensive sieve. Derrick Favors shot 60%. Gordon Hawyard shot 52%: on the season he is 39% shooter. They Jazz had more assists than the Lakers and more rebounds and shot 80% from the free throw line. Of course, Pau Gasol did not play in the game.
It has been two weeks since the Friday night against Minnesota when the Lakers won a game inspired to prove they could compete without Kobe. Since then they have lost six in a row. The last time that happened was in 2012. The Lakers beat the Portland Trailblazers on December 28th. They did not win again until January 13th against the Cleveland Cavaliers. In their losing streak they gave up 111 points a game. But the only common element of that team that lost six games and this team that has lost six games is Pau Gasol, their defense, and of course Mike D’Antoni.
For much of the season the Lakers have been absent of luck. Almost all of their players have suffered through something. The one player who has been charmed so far is Kendall Marshall. Two weeks ago he was playing in the D-League. Against the Utah Jazz he will be the starting point guard responsible for getting shots for players who cannot create much on their own. He will be asked to score, to relive some of the offense that Jordan Farmar took on and as ridiculous as it may appear he is the Lakers last hope of not losing a seventh game.
Of course Mike D’Antoni has been here before, been desperate. That was when he threw Jeremy Lin into the New York rotation just because he was out of options. Linsanity, a semi-legend, the two month kind, was born out of necessity. Rarely does history revisit itself- it is the point of history that it happened just once, at least in terms of a drama that defies description, that is built upon the decimation of the human body.
Mike D’Antoni believes in the self-made myth, that men can do great things based upon will and perseverance. But that only applies to the great man, the one who has the ability to embrace and overcome punishment and failure, who has the talent to do so- it is why he is great. But for the rest of humankind it is a back and forth trek between mediocrity and climbing up a hill. The hill looks stable and then you fall and then you get back up and then you fall again which is not to say all is lost for this Lakers team depleted by injury. For them to win against the Utah Jazz as D’Antoni has predicted, they will have to play harder, rebound more, have desperation and not give up on any moment of the game. And the thing is, they could do all of those things and do them as well as they possibly can and still lose their seventh game in a row.