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For at least one night, Mike D'Antoni's offense is back

Houston Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni reacts to

Houston Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni reacts to a play during the first half in Game 7 of the NBA basketball Western Conference finals against the Golden State Warriors, Monday, May 28, 2018, in Houston. Credit: AP/David Phillip

Mike D’Antoni was not panicking. At least not visibly.

The coach most responsible for putting NBA scoreboards on steroids was not worried that his Houston Rockets had the NBA’s 26th-ranked offense entering Friday night’s game against the Nets. Nor was he worried that his team, which finished with the best record in the NBA last season, had lost four of its first five games.

D’Antoni has faith in his offense and faith in his team. He has faith that things will start to click once Chris Paul and James Harden are back in the lineup together, which should happen Saturday night in Chicago. He has confidence that Carmelo Anthony, at age 34, will adjust to playing this offense and the fact that he usually will be coming off the bench. He has confidence that his players’ defensive focus will return once their shots start falling and they aren’t so distracted.

On Friday night, that faith paid off. Thanks to big performances by Anthony and Paul, the Rockets snapped a four-game losing streak with a 119-111 win over the Nets at Barclays Center. Paul had 32 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds. Anthony scored a season-high 28 points off the bench, including back-to-back three-pointers in the fourth quarter.

“We needed to get this game tonight,” Anthony said. “We had to look our own self in the mirror and hold ourselves accountable. We had to figure it out.”

D’Antoni said he had faith that the team was going to start figuring things out. “The team can’t panic. I can’t panic, but inside I am panicking,” he said after the game. “I trust this group totally. All they want to do is win and you know it’s just a matter of time before they get mad at themselves and get mad at each other and get it right.”

One of the NBA’s most potent offenses last season was held below 90 points in two of the previous three games. That occurred only three times all last season.

What’s more, the problems went both ways. The Rockets clearly are struggling to adjust to the loss of key defenders Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute. Houston entered the game allowing an average of 116.3 points per game and 49 percent shooting.

D’Antoni and his staff had combed through the tape and crunched the stats, and they could come up with no reason for the team to be off to this kind of start. “Analytically, there’s no reason why. We’re taking the same shots we did last year and just shooting at a 20 percent less clip,” he said. “ . . . We obviously have some kind of malaise we have to shrug off and get going.”

It’s hard to ignore the irony of Houston’s slow start, considering what is going on around the rest of the league. With more and more teams playing the kind of offense D’Antoni first brought to the league, scoring has exploded this season. There have been seven games in which teams scored at least 140 points. In all of last season, that happened only 13 times. League-wide, teams are averaging nearly six more points a game than they did last season.

“That guy changed the league,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said of D’Antoni before the game. “That’s unbelievable. I see a lot of teams copying what he was doing 10 years ago, 15 years ago, which is the biggest compliment.

“He is a guy who was ahead of his time. That was before analytics. He saw the tipping point or the advantage before everybody else did. Which is a credit to him, and now, of course, typical Mike, he’s taken it to the extreme, because he’s a smart guy and he’s not afraid to take risks. That’s what I love about him. He doesn’t care what the rest of the crowd thinks.”

No, he definitely doesn’t. And on Friday, that faith paid off.

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

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