With new coach tabbed, Lakers return to hardwood versus Spurs

It turns out it will not be Phil Jackson tasked with guiding the Los Angeles Lakers for the rest of this season. Instead, that job will eventually fall to new head coach Mike D'Antoni.

When that will actually happen is still unknown. In the meantime, the Lakers look to continue their turnaround from a slow start on Tuesday behind interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff as they match up with the visiting San Antonio Spurs.

The Lakers began the season with three straight losses and were just 1-4 when head coach Mike Brown was fired last Friday. Los Angeles has since won a pair of contests under Bickerstaff, including Sunday's 103-90 triumph versus the Sacramento Kings, and on Monday named D'Antoni as the club's new head coach on a reported three-year contract that includes a club option for a fourth.

Many thought that Jackson, who led the Lakers to five NBA titles over two previous stints as the franchise's head coach, would be the one to fill the coaching void, but his demands to return to the role reportedly were too much for Los Angeles.

The Lakers opted to go with D'Antoni, who is recovering from knee replacement surgery and could join the team within a week or two. He most recently served as the head coach for the New York Knicks, resigning last March to end his near four-season tenure with the team.

D'Antoni should ease in well given his previous relationship with guards Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash. Bryant worked with D'Antoni this past summer on the U.S. Olympic team, while Nash was part of his high-powered offense in Phoenix for five seasons that began in 2003-04.

Nash, currently sidelined with a fractured left fibula, was twice the league's MVP under D'Antoni.

Offseason addition Dwight Howard noted on Monday that who coaches the club is out of the player's control and that the team just has to go out and play. Still, he is excited about the offensive changes that D'Antoni will bring.

"We're happy with what Bickerstaff has done the past couple of games and we're excited for D'Antoni and the up-pace offense. Everything he's done with the team's he's had as far as how they pushed the ball, how they play in the open court. I think it will be good for Steve and for all of us," said Howard.

While the Lakers wait for the 61-year-old coach's arrival, they are racking up wins under Bickerstaff. Howard keyed Sunday's win with 23 points and 18 rebounds, while Bryant dropped in 20 points.

"There's a lot of things going on, but we're still capable of going out there and winning basketball games," said Los Angeles forward Pau Gasol, who chipped in 18 points.

Already without Nash, the Lakers will also be minus guard Steve Blake on Tuesday night as he is day-to-day with a minor abdominal strain.

The Spurs figure to be a good test to see if the Lakers' turnaround is for real. They stand 6-1 on the season for the 11th time in club history and have won two straight since their lone defeat. San Antonio is coming off a 112-109 comeback victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday.

The Spurs trailed by as many as 14 in the third quarter before getting a spark from Gary Neal, who saw an increase in minutes with Tony Parker out with the flu. Neal scored 15 of his career-high 27 points in the fourth quarter and Manu Ginobili made a pair of go-ahead free throws following an offensive rebound by Neal.

"When we play small it's less structure in the offense," Neal said. "It's more individual ability."

Ginobili had 17 points and Tim Duncan chipped in 22 points and nine boards for the Spurs, who snapped a seven-game slide in Portland dating back to the 2007-08 campaign by shooting a season-high 57.1 percent from the field and seeing their reserves outscore the Blazers' 63-4.

The Spurs won two of three over the Lakers last season, including a 112-91 triumph in the lone meeting at Los Angeles. San Antonio had lost five of the previous seven as the guest in this series before that meeting.

Duncan averaged 18.0 points and 6.0 rebounds in the three meetings last year, while Parker had 17.7 points and 10.3 assists per contest in that span.

Bryant holds a lifetime average of 24.2 points per game versus the Spurs, the eighth lowest average versus an opposing team in his career.

The Lakers and Spurs have combined for nine NBA titles and 11 Western Conference championships over the last 14 seasons.