SAN ANTONIO -- Mike D'Antoni is well aware of his sketchy reputation as a coach who either won't or, worse yet, can't get his teams to play defense.
"Maybe he can put the D back in my name," D'Antoni said of Dwight Howard at the coach's introductory news conference after being hired by the Los Angeles Lakers in November. "That would be nice. Some people have been taking that out."
Howard, the former three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, hasn't changed that reputation for D'Antoni just yet.
So far the proof is in the numbers regarding the Lakers' defensive performance with D'Antoni in charge. In five games with former coach Mike Brown this season, the Lakers allowed their opponents to score 98.8 points per game. In five games with interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff, opponents averaged 92.2 points. In 24 games with D'Antoni, opposing teams are putting up a whopping 104 points per game.
Does that number, coupled with the fact that D'Antoni's teams in Phoenix and New York never got enough consistent stops to rank in the top 10 in defensive efficiency, mean that D'Antoni is just incapable of coaching at that end of the court?
Not so, says San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who blamed the media for the guff D'Antoni gets about his teams' defense, or lack thereof.
"I think in this business, it's a small fraternity [in the press] and once you get a reputation for something, it pretty much sticks," Popovich said before the Lakers played the Spurs on Wednesday. "It doesn't matter what you do about it. I think Mike could probably do defensive drills all day long and somebody would still get after him for not caring about defense."
Earlier in the season, a reporter needled D'Antoni about how little time he spends teaching defense following a road loss in Cleveland and D'Antoni shot back, clearly irritated by the insinuation.
"He's probably by now stopped trying to convince people he cares about defense because he's not an idiot," Popovich said. "He knows you have to play defense. People act like he's never heard of the word, doesn't know how to spell it, and nothing could be farther from the truth. But he's wasting his time trying to convince all you guys that he cares about defense because it’s a better story the other way."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.