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NBA Saturday: Lakers Keeping D’Antoni?

The Los Angeles Lakers will reportedly keep Mike D’Antoni as their head coach next season … The Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets get huge wins to save their seasons

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Lakers Keeping Mike D’Antoni?

Despite criticism from fans, strained relationships with veterans such as Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant and Chris Kaman and two disappointing seasons, the Los Angeles Lakers are going to bring back Mike D’Antoni for a third year as head coach, according to Mark Heisler of the Orange County Register.

Heisler reports that “after 10 days of soul searching, the key figures in Lakers management are agreed on bringing back D’Antoni for a third season as coach … absolving him of blame for the 27-55 finish without Bryant and Steve Nash for 141 of a possible 162 games.”

Injuries certainly played a role in the Lakers’ struggles over the last two years, during which D’Antoni has coached the franchise to a 67-87 record. This season, the Lakers finished the season 27-55, which was the second-worst record in the Western Conference and one of the worst campaigns in franchise history.

The Lakers are hoping that bringing back D’Antoni will give the team some continuity and that, with a healthy roster, he can coach the team to a successful 2014-15 season.

It’ll be interesting to see how Bryant feels about this, since he wasn’t exactly supportive of D’Antoni during his end-of-season interviews. However, Mitch Kupchak recently said that Bryant wouldn’t have any input regarding D’Antoni’s future.

“We will not consult with him,” Kupchak told USA TODAY. “No, we won’t consult with him.He’ll be fine. He’s got no choice. He’ll be fine. When we lose, he’ll rant and rave and be upset and be hot and won’t talk to anybody, but that’s the way it is. You’ve got to take the good with the bad.”

While it is somewhat of a surprise that the Lakers will bring back D’Antoni, this could just be delaying the inevitable. The Lakers have the summer of 2015 circled on their calendar, as that is when they’ll have cap space to make splashy free agent acquisitions. If the Lakers know that they won’t be competitive until then, this could just be the organization deciding the keep D’Antoni around for one more year and then making a coaching change in 2015, once the team is ready to contend again. Until then, why pay D’Antoni as well as his replacement for a season that will likely be another rebuilding year?

This could also signal that the Lakers weighed other options, but couldn’t find anyone better than D’Antoni that was willing to take the job. As bad as things were for the Lakers last season, D’Antoni is still a respected head coach. If the Lakers tried to replace him but couldn’t find a better option on the open market, they may not have had any choice but to retain D’Antoni. Big names like John Calipari, Mike Krzyzewski and others were thrown around, but those were always viewed as unrealistic options for L.A. Rather than making a change just to make a change, it seems the Lakers will stick with D’Antoni.

D’Antoni has also went along with the organization’s plan since becoming the team’s head coach, keeping silent when other coaches may have questioned or criticized management and ownership. This may have helped him as Kupchak and Jim Buss contemplated whether they should bring him back. Can you imagine coaches like Stan Van Gundy, George Karl or Lionel Hollins keeping their mouths shut and being a good soldier over the course of a 27-win season? Unlikely, to say the least.

Rather than just being content with not being fired, D’Antoni will reportedly ask the team to pick up his 2015-16 team option as well so that he doesn’t enter next as a lame duck head coach. He wants some long-term security so that he won’t be “undermined by constant speculation about his future,” according to ESPN. It remains to be seen if the Lakers will pick up the option on the fourth year of his contract.

Bulls, Rockets Stay Alive

No team in playoff history has come back to win a series after falling in an 0-3 hole, which is why last night’s games were so important for the Houston Rockets and Chicago Bulls. Both teams had dropped two games on their home court and were desperate for a win so that they wouldn’t be facing elimination in Game 4.

The Bulls were able to defeat the Wizards in a close game, coming up with a 100-97 victory. Mike Dunleavy Jr. played out of his mind, scoring 35 points and hitting a Bulls playoff record eight three-pointers in the victory.

“Mike’s been around a long time,” Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He’s had a terrific career. He’s a great pro. Sometimes people forget how good he is and probably the only thing that was slowing him down were injuries. One year in Indiana he averaged 19 points a game, so he’s a good player. He’s been relatively healthy and he does whatever you ask him to do to help the team win. You can start him, bring him off the bench. You can play him big minutes, short minutes. He just goes out there and he does his job. He can really pass the ball, he can really shoot the ball, but he does a lot of other things as well. He screens well, his team defense is very good.”

I feel like I have been shooting the ball well,” Dunleavy said. “I just have not had a ton of looks. Coach mentioned some stuff yesterday about trying to get me some more catch and shoot situations and we did that. We did that tonight. I got a couple easy layups early on and got going. I just had one of those nights.”

In addition to Dunleavy’s 35 points, four other Chicago players finished in double figures (Jimmy Butler, Carlos Boozer, D.J. Augustin and Taj Gibson). Butler hit a go-ahead three with 24 seconds remaining to seal the win for the Bulls.

“We just need to keep grinding,” Thibodeau said. “We felt in both games we had the lead in the fourth and we wanted to finish strong. They’re a tough team. That’s the first [win], we’ve got to keep going.”

“It was crazy,” Joakim Noah said. “Jimmy hit a real big, big, big three. … It was an ugly game today, but Dunleavy had an unbelievable performance.  A lot of guys stepped up and it’s the first to four.  Every game is a battle and I’m just happy we got the win tonight.”

Just feels good to get a win,” Dunleavy said. “It has been a rough series. We have been in positions to win a couple games. We did not get them. We come here and hang on for a victory. That is the biggest thing. Whether I score 35 points or zero, I’m just happy we won. We were disappointed to go two at home, especially when you had double digit leads in the second half of both games. I think we were surprised and disappointed, but we have a lot respect for this team we are playing so it is not like we are shocked, but we knew we had to play really well to win.”

The Rockets were also able to get a win on Friday night, defeating the Blazers in overtime, 121-116. Troy Daniels, who spent time in the D-League this season and didn’t appear in Games 1 and 2, hit a clutch three with 11.9 seconds left to lift Houston to victory. James Harden finished with 37 points, nine rebounds and six assists and Dwight Howard chipped in 24 points, 16 rebounds and two blocks.

“I was ready,” Daniels said. “My teammates and coaches said just be ready to shoot that shot and that’s what I do, that’s my job, so it was a great shot and a great game. It means a lot. As a rookie, you never know when you’re going to play. When [Coach] called my name, I was ready to play. That just shows how much confidence he has in me.”

“It’s big time,” Harden said. “A couple weeks ago he was in the D-League, and now he saved our season. It was a big time shot, he was ready to play. As soon as he came in and started practice, he was ready. He’s always ready and always working hard, so this shot was just helping his mojo.”

LaMarcus Aldridge, who scored 89 points in the first two games of the series, was limited to just 23 points in Game 3. Houston still has a lot of work to do as they fight back in the series, but this was a big step for them.

“Well, it’s a process and we’re still getting better,” Chandler Parsons said. “We’re still working hard and we’re still going to try and keep getting better and better chemistry, but this is the most exciting part of the year. Our goal all year long was to get home court advantage and obviously losing those two at home wasn’t ideal, but I’m happy with the way we fought tonight. We didn’t hang our heads and we got a big win. The pressure is on them, Sunday is going to be a great game and we have to do a great job of being ready, being focused. We have to quiet runs to a minimum and just be out there for four quarters. The hustle plays, the loose balls, we have to get all of those.”

“We played hard,” Rockets head coach Kevin McHale said. “We’re not a fine tuned machine right now but we went out and played hard. They’re a tough team, they’re going to bounce back on Sunday, but we are too. We haven’t done anything yet. We’ve won one game, which feels a whole lot better than losing games, but we as a team just have to keep on fighting and I really thought they took the fight to us in the first two games.”

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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