Lakers’ absent coach makes his presence felt

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Lakers’ absent coach makes his presence felt

LOS ANGELES - While Mike D’Antoni has yet to take charge of his first game courtside, the Los Angeles Lakers have turned around their season in explosive fashion in the up-tempo, high-scoring style promised by their new coach.

Since D’Antoni’s predecessor Mike Brown was fired Nov. 9, the Lakers have won four of five games, scoring more than 100 points in all four wins to bury memories of their dismal 1-4 start.

They have recorded season-high totals of 114 and 119 in their last two outings, the first games since D’Antoni took over Lakers practice sessions.

Bernie Bickerstaff will forever be able to boast that he guided the Los Angeles franchise to a 4-1 record as their interim coach, but the D’Antoni influence has unquestionably energized the players.

“He just lets us go out there and play,” five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant told reporters about D’Antoni, who has delayed his courtside return while he recovers from knee replacement surgery.

“It’s not like he has to be on top of us and stuff. He comes in before the game and tells us what we need to do, at halftime he comes in and tells us everything we need to adjust and we just go from there.

“We’re just picking apart the defense,” said Bryant, who recorded the 18th triple-double of his career in the Lakers’ 119-108 win over the Houston Rockets on Sunday.

One concern Lakers fans may have is the team’s defense, which allowed the fast-paced Phoenix Suns to score 64 points in the paint while losing to Los Angeles 114-102 at the Staples Center on Friday.

Bryant, however, does not share those concerns.

“We just need to get a little sharper,” said the 14-time All-Star. “Defensively, we’re doing okay. These last two teams that we played did a good job getting up and down, spacing the floor and making shots.”

What has made the turnaround by the Lakers even more remarkable is they have been without point guard Steve Nash and his back-up Steve Blake.

Nash, twice the NBA’s Most Valuable Player, has missed the last eight games because of a small fracture in his left leg and is expected to be out at least the rest of this week. Blake has been sidelined by an abdominal strain.

In their absence, Darius Morris has performed impressively, while Bryant has skillfully combined the roles of facilitator and shot-maker.

Nash, an eight-time All-Star, was point guard for the Phoenix Suns when D’Antoni took them to the Western Conference Finals twice in five seasons, and he knows the offense-oriented system of the new Lakers inside-out.

“I’m really lucky to have Steve Nash, who’s done this,” said D’Antoni. “I know the possibilities that we have. Our expectations are to win a championship. We have the team and players to do that.

“Our offensive philosophy, we just have a rhythm to it. We open the floor up and make things as easy as we can with some great players. You do that, things flow.”

D’Antoni hopes to be on the bench Tuesday against the Brooklyn Nets in Los Angeles.

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