Here we go again.
Despite entering the fourth quarter with an 83-73 lead, the Los Angeles Lakers lost to the Houston Rockets by a score of 107-105. This loss came despite James Harden shooting 3-of-19 from the floor and Kobe Bryant scoring 39 points.
As for why, look no further than Mike D'Antoni getting an F in Game Management 101.
This is the Lakers' fifth loss in seven games. They're now 1-2 in games in which they've scored at least 100 points under D'Antoni, which further validates the fear that all Lakers fans possessed entering his tenure: Without defense, this team is doomed.
The issue goes beyond the obvious, however, as D'Antoni made key decisions which negatively impacted the outcome of the game. Decisions which led to the Lakers blowing a 10-point lead entering the fourth quarter.
Decisions which allowed the hack-a-Howard strategy to determine the outcome of the game. Which is where we begin.
Coach D'Antoni appears to have fallen under the spell of the worst myth in the entire sports world. That, of course, is the concept of the impenetrable nature of star power.
"Even if my star's performance is hurting the team, I should keep him in." False.
This was on full display Tuesday night, as the Houston Rockets utilized the hack-a-Howard approach on five consecutive possessions. Even as Howard went 5-of-10 from the charity stripe and missed five of his first eight attempts, D'Antoni allowed it to transpire.
Said D'Antoni after the game, when questioned about the possibility of avoiding the hack-a-Howard strategy entirely: ''If you take him out now, then you'll be taking out a guy that's going to be your franchise player all the time. We've got other problems to worry about. We shouldn't be talking about him. He's doing a (heck) of a job and he'll work through it and knock them down.''
No matter how dominant Howard may be, taking him out and allowing Kobe Bryant to continue his 39-point outing would have won the game. This is not a subjective matter, folks—the Rockets only stormed back because of this tactic.
Kobe had scored on three of the previous four possessions. It was the pitiful strategy by the Rockets and the disturbingly poor reaction by D'Antoni which led to the Lakers' loss.
Clark Before Hill, Morris Rarely Ever
If you're sitting there wondering who would have come in for Dwight Howard, why not Jordan Hill? After all, he did finish the game with nine points, nine rebounds and three blocks in 14 minutes of play.
More importantly, Hill had seven points in the fourth quarter before being subbed out. So why not replace hack-a-Howard with a hot Hill?
D'Antoni proved incapable of managing this game from early in the first quarter. Not only did he substitute Earl Clark into the game before Hill, he proceeded to ignore the dominant level of play Hill was putting forth.
The Lakers are now 2-7 in games in which Hill does not play at least 17 minutes. They're 6-3 when he does.
Although Clark deserves to see his minutes, there is no way around how poorly D'Antoni is utilizing Hill. In fact, D'Antoni subbed the former Arizona Wildcat out just one minute after he scored his seventh point of the fourth quarter.
Seven points which came in six minutes.
Beyond Hill and Clark is D'Antoni's continued misuse of spark-plug point guard Darius Morris. Despite Morris' energy and athleticism, D'Antoni chose Chris Duhon for far too long.
Thirty-eight minutes of play for Duhon gave him tired legs and allowed Toney Douglas to score at will.
How would you grade Mike D'Antoni's coaching performance?
The Lakers are now 8-10 and 3-5 under D'Antoni. This is not because of the system, the personnel or the execution. This is a direct result of D'Antoni's inability to manage a game—the same issue that plagued him in Phoenix and New York.
D'Antoni is the wrong coach for the job and a terrible game manager. The sooner L.A. realizes this, the earlier it'll discover its unlimited potential.