Mike D'Antoni returns to Garden with Lakers reeling

Head coach Mike D'Antoni of the New York Head coach Mike D'Antoni of the New York Knicks in action against the New Jersey Nets at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The Knicks defeated the Nets 99-92. (Feb. 4, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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A little more than a month ago, shortly after being named the Lakers' coach, Mike D'Antoni told a reporter from ESPN.com that it had been a mistake for him to take the job in New York.

Now, after 12 games with the Lakers, he might be starting to think the same thing about Los Angeles.

D'Antoni returns to Madison Square Garden Thursday nightfor the first time since resigning as Knicks coach on March 14. The team he left has won eight of its last 10 games, has the best record in the Eastern Conference at 16-5 and has a top MVP candidate in Carmelo Anthony.

And his new team?

The Lakers, who many thought would contend for a title when they added Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, are 9-13 overall and 4-8 under D'Antoni. Nash played only two games before suffering a small fracture to his left fibula. The offense has floundered without the 38-year-old point guard and the defense has been porous. Lakers great Magic Johnson publicly questioned D'Antoni's system and whether it fits the talent the team has. And Kobe Bryant is sounding increasingly frustrated by the whole situation.

It got considerably worse Tuesday night when the Lakers lost at Cleveland, 100-94, despite 42 points from Bryant. And if there was any question about the team being at the breaking point, they were answered in a postgame news conference when D'Antoni snapped at Los Angeles Times columnist T.J. Simers when he was asked if the team had worked on defense.

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"Hell yeah, we worked for a half-hour on it," D'Antoni said. "You're starting to [tick] me off. You're starting to [tick] me off because you're saying something that's not factually correct."

The Lakers have allowed 100 or more points in six of their last seven games. Cleveland, which had lost five straight games, has the 21st-ranked offense. The Knicks, by contrast, have the league's fifth-best offense.

D'Antoni, long known as an offensive guru, has been accused of neglecting his defense in favor of a high-octane approach. With Nash out, the Lakers have been entirely Bryant-centric. Yet the team is 1-10 in games in which he has scored 30 or more points.

D'Antoni spent 31/2 seasons with the Knicks, the highlight of which was when he took them back to the playoffs in 2010-11 with a 42-40 record, before getting swept in the first round by the Celtics. Less than a year later, he stepped down.

He was named the Lakers' coach this season after the team's disappointing 1-4 start got Mike Brown fired.

Now, there are some out there wondering whether the Lakers eventually will pull the plug on D'Antoni. It's clear that everyone is frustrated, including the team's most important player.

Said Bryant after the loss to Cleveland: "This is one of the most challenging stretches in my 17 years, and the most baffling, too. We have the talent and the personnel to do it, but we're not."

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