Updated: November 14, 2012, 4:10 AM ET

1. Is Spurs-Lakers Rivalry Ready To Return?

By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- Now that the Los Angeles Lakers have a new coach in place -- well, not actually in place, but at least hired -- there comes the "moving on" part. The practical part. The "actually beating some good competition" part.

That last one is something the Lakers have yet to cross off their checklist. They came within two points of the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday night, but they're still awaiting their first victory against a team that currently holds a winning record. Their record stands at 3-5, with the "3" coming against the Detroit Pistons, the Golden State Warriors and the Sacramento Kings, none of which are on track to make the playoffs.

The Spurs will be in the postseason, as usual. They're off to a 7-1 start, they've got a good mix of veteran experience and young energy and they've still got Gregg Popovich, who retains the unofficial title as best coach in the game as long as Phil Jackson is out of the business.

Tim Duncan
Noah Graham/Getty ImagesSan Antonio got the win in their first meeting with L.A. What about when Mike D'Antoni takes over?

Before the game, Popovich allowed that he felt a little nostalgic when he saw the reports of Jackson's return, in the way an old general might miss the Cold War. Jackson was a more-than-worthy adversary when he and Popovich squared off in four consecutive playoffs, from 2001-2004.

But the consolation prize amid the fallout from the Lakers' hasty pivot away from Jackson and toward Mike D'Antoni is the Spurs can re-enact two rivalries at once. Not only can Popovich, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili face Kobe Bryant, they also get to replay their battles with D'Antoni and Steve Nash that made for such great series in 2005, 2007 and 2008.

The Spurs got the better of all of those series. And D'Antoni and Nash, who did beat San Antonio with coach Alvin Gentry in 2010, are still waiting for a crack at them in the purple and gold colors. Nash will miss at least the rest of the week while recovering from a broken fibula, and D'Antoni is dealing with leg issues himself. He'll attend his first practice with the Lakers on Thursday, and there has yet to be a declaration of whether he'll coach them against the Suns on Friday or against the Houston Rockets on Sunday.

You can't exactly claim the Lakers fans are eagerly awaiting his arrival. They haven't gotten over the tease-and-desist that came from the team's flirtation with Jackson over the weekend. In the first game since they had their hopes for Jackson's return dashed, they were even flatter than normal to start the game. You can't overstate the letdown they're feeling, and it was palpable among this gathering of 18,997 at Staples Center.

"There wasn't a lot of energy in the building tonight," Duncan said. "It was kind of dead. I think Pop was trying to push up the energy, but I don't think it was on us. We were playing hard, it was just … the building was dead."

A highly competitive game brought it back to life. By the end, with the Spurs leading by two points with 9.3 seconds remaining, every fan stood on his or her feet. Then they saw the shortcomings of this current Lakers team: an uninspired play run by an injury-decimated lineup. With neither Nash nor Steve Blake available because of injuries, interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff had improvised a backcourt of Kobe and Metta World Peace.

It worked for a while, but at this critical juncture World Peace couldn't get the ball to Bryant and settled for passing to Gasol in the corner. Bryant cut to the hoop, but couldn't shake Kawhi Leonard, and Gasol wound up shooting a 3-pointer that missed.

It felt like the old rivalry was back, even if the 84-82 score was more Spurs-Lakers than Spurs-Suns. That should change with the arrivals of D'Antoni and Nash.

"It'll be a lot of fun," Popovich said. "I think it will usually be more scoring both ways than it I was tonight. Tonight was kind of strange.

"The big deal is, it's all about players. We're trying to get Manu his rhythm back. The Lakers want Steve back. And when he's there, they're a better team. It's all about having your players healthy and getting a rhythm with your group."

It's also about quality of opponent, as the Lakers have shown in these three games since Mike Brown was fired. They have gotten by with improvisation against the Warriors and Kings, but they'll need better execution against teams like the Spurs, plus a cohesive belief in a core philosophy.

Bickerstaff borrowed from Shakespeare, coming close enough to the actual quote from Julius Caesar, closing with, "The problem lies not within the stars, it lies within ourselves."

Does the solution lie within D'Antoni? A cynical, skeptical fan base wonders, and waits.


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