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Time for Mike D'Antoni to earn it

SAN ANTONIO -- Long before Kobe Bryant got into a bizarre postgame tête-à-tête from 1,350 miles away with Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni on Sunday, Bryant glowed about the man, calling him an "offensive genius" back in November.

D'Antoni called Bryant, who was live-tweeting the Lakers' Game 1 against the San Antonio Spurs from his home in California as he rehabs after Achilles surgery, a "fan" for his 140-character contributions from afar.

Probably a poor word choice from D'Antoni, one that Bryant chalked up to a "#nervousresponse" in one tweet, but one that stuck in his craw nonetheless when he later tweeted sarcastically that he would be watching Game 2 "from the crib again in a pau jersey and laker face paint."

Whatever adjustments D'Antoni makes for his team on the offensive end, after the Lakers lost to the Spurs 91-79 in Game 1, will determine if "genius" was as poor a word choice by Bryant.

D'Antoni, who has been much maligned for his team's lack of defensive discipline to the point at which he gets called "Antoni" for his team's missing "D," is suddenly "D'Antni" for the Lakers' missing "O."

Give credit to the Lakers for learning on the fly since Bryant went out, finding an identity that works through consistent defense and a commitment to an inside-out style of ball through Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, but now it's time for D'Antoni to show just what adjustments he can bring to the offensive end.

For as much as a ball stopper Bryant could be at times, he is one of the greatest bail-out players ever, able to make difficult shots when the offense grinds to a halt.

Not only does D'Antoni not have the constant benefit of Bryant's 27.3 points per game to lean on, he also can't just hand over the keys to Steve Nash and let him pick-and-roll teams to death to keep the offense humming.

"I'm not myself," the 39-year-old Nash said after gutting out 30 minutes and scoring 16 points on 6-for-15 shooting with three assists and just one turnover in his first appearance in nine games after dealing with a bum right hip and hamstring. "I'm not moving that well, and I'm struggling a little bit."

Without Bryant and with Nash a shell of the two-time MVP he was in Phoenix, D'Antoni's Lakers shot just 41.1 percent from the field in Game 1 (including a 3-for-15 mark on 3-pointers), failed to crack the 80-point plateau and turned it over 18 times, which lead to 14 points for the Spurs.

"At times, we got it inside. At other times, we struggled to find ways to get it inside," Nash said. "[Tim] Duncan did a good job defensively on Dwight, making it hard to catch, and sometimes the entries weren't there."

Howard got his (20 points on 8-for-12 shooting), but he was a part of the problem down low (four turnovers), as was Gasol, who had a team-high six turnovers and was spotty in his effectiveness while settling for midrange jumpers (7-of-16 from the field for 16 points).

"You just can't put 15 guys near the basket and think you're going [to win]," D'Antoni said.

D'Antoni loathes just dumping the ball into the block and letting guys go to work, anyway. He has called the straight post-up possession the least efficient play in basketball.

And he can work only with what he has. Apart from Bryant being gone and Nash being slowed, Jodie Meeks suffered a mild sprain of his left ankle and shot just 1-for-4 from the field, and Antawn Jamison tweaked his right wrist again and shot 1-for-3.

But "genius" comes with some expectation. Yes, D'Antoni can't put the ball in the net for L.A. or stop his players from throwing errant passes, but he can orchestrate ball screens and high-low schemes to counter the Spurs' pressure.

What D'Antoni has going for him is a belief from his players in what they're doing. The Spurs shot 37.6 percent, the third straight opponent the Lakers have held to less than 40 percent since Bryant went out.

And Howard sounded confident about what will happen if the Lakers keep going down low.

"As the series goes on, those [San Antonio] bigs will wear down from trying to fight for every possession," Howard said. "We've just got to do a good job, myself and Pau, of not getting offensive fouls, not try to fight back too much, but read the defense. If they front, we have things set up to where we can counter that."

Which reminds us of another Bryant tweet that occurred during the game: "Post. Post. Post."

It won't be the post-ups that win this series for the Lakers as much as what L.A. plans to do when those post-ups aren't working.

That's on D'Antoni to determine.

"We'll make some adjustments," D'Antoni said. "I was happy with the looks we got. I wasn't happy with the turnovers that we had."

And now the Lakers will try to turn over a new leaf for Game 2.

Bryant already has, vowing to not live-tweet the game again to avoid being a distraction.

Next up, "D'Antni" can earn back that "O."