Mike D'Antoni has officially been introduced as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers and, according to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports, will make his coaching debut on Sunday against the Houston Rockets. At that point, fans will receive an idea of what to expect from the offensive guru. Just how a new president's first 100 days in office are seen as a tone-setter for their term, so are a new coach's first handful of games.
Looking at the Lakers' schedule, it's going to be interesting to see how the team responds to D'Antoni over his first 10 games with them. That stretch provides the Lakers with a great variety of opponents, from sure contenders to bubble teams to cellar dwellers. Each game requires a certain strategy, and it is up to D'Antoni and his available players to execute it perfectly.
The Lakers don't necessarily have to win these first 10 games, but simply be competitive in them. Any wins accumulated are just an added bonus.
So long as D'Antoni follows certain guidelines, the recipe for success will be easy for him to follow.
Not only is this D'Antoni's first game as Lakers coach, but it is also the one where he gets to face point guard Jeremy Lin, whom he turned into an overnight sensation last season with the New York Knicks. Like the Lakers, Lin has gotten off to a slow start this season and has struggled with his offense. Despite that, Houston has gone 4-4.
That said, this game is going to be something of a litmus test for D'Antoni. He is going to be without point guard Steve Nash, who is at least a week away from returning, and thus may have a hard time running his signature offense. As we saw with the New York Knicks early last season, D'Antoni's game tends to crumble without a reliable point guard.
What D'Antoni needs to do, given the circumstances, is let Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard control the offense through some sort of fast-paced isolation game. Both men are more than capable of carrying the team and allowing Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace and their other teammates contribute as needed.
The goal on defense should be to contain James Harden by any means necessary. He is their top scoring threat, and the Rockets like to run a fast-paced game through him. So long as the Lakers can lock him down and force Houston to look to others for points, they'll have a fighting chance.
Prediction: Lakers win 107-96
The loss of Nash is going to show in this game, as Nets coach Avery Johnson is a disciple of Hall of Fame coach Don Nelson. Much like Nelson, he too likes to play a run-and-gun game. Of the Nets' five wins this season, they have scored 100 points or more in four of them.
D'Antoni's system is very similar, but he will be at a disadvantage against Brooklyn in that he will not have a top point man to cover Nets floor general Deron Williams. The All-Star guard is averaging 18.6 points and 7.7 assists per game, plus shooting guard Joe Johnson is just starting to heat up.
The Lakers have the upper hand on defense, as Dwight Howard is a better player than both Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries combined. Thus, the only way for the Lakers to conceivably defeat the Nets is to outdo them in the frontcourt and control the rebounding game.
Unfortunately, with Nash probably out for this game, chances are the Lakers will lose the long-range shooting game and thus the contest itself.
Prediction: Nets win 112-98
The Lakers have already faced the Kings this season, having defeated them 103-90 in LA on November 11. This time, the Kings have home-court advantage, but it won't be enough to defeat the struggling Lakers.
Even though this isn't the game where I'm picking Nash to make his return, the Lakers are still going to wipe the floor with the young and unexperienced Kings.
Even without a top point man running the offense, look for D'Antoni to have Bryant run the offense and execute a lot of pick-and-roll plays with Howard and Gasol. The veteran bigs will just overwhelm the inexperienced DeMarcus Cousins and Jason Thompson, not to mention rookie Thomas Robinson.
In the backcourt, the Kings will have no answer for Bryant nor Steve Blake on both sides of the floor. Sacramento is still without a true point guard who puts passing over scoring, and that's going to make for some prime defensive opportunities for the Lakers.
By the final buzzer, the Lakers will have beaten the Kings again, and handily.
Prediction: Lakers win 117-96
Mark your calendars, Lakers fans. This will be the game in which Nash returns and makes D'Antoni's offense complete. It comes at a perfect time too, as the young and confident Memphis Grizzlies are currently 6-1 and aren't showing any signs of slowing down.
Though they do have home-court advantage and one of the league's best young point guards in Mike Conley, the Lakers are going to win a close one here. Nash will show a little bit of rust in the first half, but will turn on the afterburners in the second half and help lead the team to victory.
Until then, it is important for D'Antoni to draw up lots of post plays so that Howard can go toe-to-toe with Marc Gasol and draw plenty of fouls. His free-throw percentage may not be ideal, but the more opportunities for free points the better.
Throw in some scoring from Bryant, and the Lakers are set to start a streak in Memphis.
Prediction: Lakers win 109-103
The Lakers will have an opportunity to get their revenge against the Dallas Mavericks on this night, as the young and scrappy team defeated them 99-91 in the season opener. Even more embarrassing was that Dallas did not have star player Dirk Nowitzki playing, as he recovers from knee surgery.
With Nash back and fully healthy, look for the Lakers to absolutely go off on the young squad while also providing some solid defense. The Princeton offense is gone, and the run and gun is in, which means that every player will be able to live up to their full potential on both sides of the floor.
Simply put, given Dallas' lack of size in the middle, look for D'Antoni to have Nash and Howard run lots of pick-and-roll plays and for some thunderous dunks to be thrown down. Bryant will score a good number of points with help from Gasol and the rest of his teammates being more than welcome.
Dallas may look hot at times, but the Lakers will simply be hotter. With their experience, the stage is set for them to extend their winning streak to three games.
Prediction: Lakers win 117-100
The Indiana Pacers are really struggling without star Danny Granger, and the team has struggled thus far. They are only 3-6 and three games out of first place in the Central Division.
Their schedule leading up to this game provides something of a reprieve with games against the New Orleans Hornets and Washington Wizards, but they must also face the Mavericks, Spurs and red-hot New York Knicks.
Though the team is more than capable of going on a run and improving its record, they are still a very young team and don't have much in terms of veteran leadership. To put it bluntly, they still don't have enough experience to keep up with a group of seasoned veterans.
This is how D'Antoni will use a fast-paced offensive attack to extend the Lakers' winning streak to four. With Dwight Howard's hands full covering Roy Hibbert, look for D'Antoni to have Nash look to Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol to handle most of the offensive duties. Howard will get his fair share of touches, but his primary focus will be to cover Hibbert and provide solid defense.
Indiana may look hot at times, but the Lakers still have quite the upper hand. When push comes to shove, they'll have to play horribly in order to lose this game.
Prediction: Lakers win 111-104
The Denver Nuggets have one of the deepest teams in the league, and they too like to sometimes play a fast-paced game. The Lakers will have a tough test here, as Andre Iguodala (pictured) is surely going to be playing some lockdown defense on Bryant and second-year man Kenneth Faried some equally tough D on Gasol.
This means that the D'Antoni-led Lakers are going to have to look to the pick-and-roll to get them out of the woods, which means another quality night of production from Nash and Howard. However, D'Antoni cannot rely solely on that approach.
Though Bryant will be in for a long night with Iguodala guarding him, he still needs to get plenty of touches and opportunities to score. His shooting percentage for the night may be a bit off, but he'll still get his fair share of points.
Unfortunately, it's not going to be enough as Denver will look to a balanced offense and tough defense to slow down the Lakers. It'll be a close game, but the winning streak will be over by the end of the night.
Prediction: Nuggets win 98-93
Following the loss to Denver, D'Antoni is going to have to run some low post drills so that the pick-and-roll and jump shots aren't the sole ways of scoring points. With the Orlando Magic coming to town, drills in this area are going to be more important than they may seem.
Granted, the Magic are a young and inexperienced team whose star player is shooter Arron Afflalo (pictured), but this is a team that gave the Knicks a run for their money on November 13. They like to run and are capable of making the open shot or coming up with a key block, so they are perfectly capable of upsetting a better team.
This time, the Lakers are going to get back on track by beating the Magic at their own game and showing some fine play in the low post against Orlando big men Glen "Big Baby" Davis and Nikola Vucevic. Howard and Gasol will have a great game with Nash and Bryant also contributing accordingly.
Long story short, Howard's going to get the ultimate revenge on his former team.
Prediction: Lakers win 108-95
This game will show a mental mistake by D'Antoni, who will have won his first matchup against Houston on the backs of Bryant and Howard. Instead of sticking with that approach, he'll look to his signature run-and-gun style and let Nash run the show.
This isn't going to work, as I predict that Jeremy Lin will have gotten his scoring on track by this point. He will go on to beat Nash at his own game, and by the time D'Antoni realizes he needs to let Bryant and Howard take over on offense, it's going to be too late.
The Lakers will lose this game not in a blowout, but by enough points for D'Antoni to realize that he screwed this one up.
Rockets win 107-98
The Lakers don't have any time to harp on their loss to the Rockets, as they head to the Big Easy to face the Hornets the very next day. Fortunately for D'Antoni, his signature offense will work perfectly against this young team.
Yes, the Hornets are a talented young crew led by No. 1 pick Anthony Davis, but they are still not deep nor experienced enough to go toe-to-toe with the Lakers. More importantly, Davis is going to have Pau Gasol covering him. Gasol may not be an elite defender, but he has enough length and size to make it a long game for the former Kentucky Wildcat.
Bryant is also going to light up the scoreboard in New Orleans, with rookie Austin Rivers guarding him. The Black Mamba will be striking possession after possession with Nash getting him the ball, to the tune of a great scoring night. The same goes for Howard, who will have no problem going up against Robin Lopez.
In the end, though the team will have gone 7-3 under D'Antoni by the end of this game, much in thanks to his learning how to diversify his approach, this will be the blowout victory the Lakers were hoping for under the new offense.
Prediction: Lakers win 120-97