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Los Angeles Lakers learn fitting in not as easy as it looks

Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni jokingly admitted Saturday that he wanted the Heat’s grand experiment to fail in 2010.

Then the coach of the New York Knicks, D’Antoni watched with intrigue along with everyone else as the Heat got off to rocky start. At 9-8 to begin the 2010 season, nothing seemed certain about the Heat except that it was going to take hard work for three perennial All-Stars and a collection of willing role players to figure itself out.

“We were all hoping it would blow up, but it didn’t,” D’Antoni said. “I was just being uncompetitive. Just like everyone else, you live off y’alls little stories and you go, ‘Ha ha, look at that.’

“But they handled it well. They got through it, and [Heat coach Erik] Spoelstra did a great job of trying to ride the wave and he did, and you have to give him credit. It was great.”

D’Antoni is now trying to navigate that same rough surf that threatened to swamp the Heat.

There is still time for the Lakers to make the playoffs. There is still time for Los Angeles to coalesce and make its run. But time is running out.

Before the season, the Heat’s home matinee on Sunday against the Lakers had the look of a marquee blockbuster, a game that might stand as a preview of the NBA Finals. It still might be — write off the Kobe Bryant and the Lakers at your peril — but right now Sunday’s game is nothing more than a matchup of a team at the top of its powers squaring off against an opponent scrambling to make the playoffs.

“They just found a way to play together,” Lakers center Dwight Howard said of the 2010 Heat. “That’s what we have to do.”

Remember when Metta World Peace said that his Lakers would challenge the Bulls’ regular-season record of 72 wins? If the season ended today, the Lakers would be 10th in the Western Conference standings and preparing for an early offseason.

To a degree, Peace’s prediction has haunted the Lakers just like LeBron James’ multiple-championship prediction hounded the Heat for so long. Injuries, a coaching change and drama — lots and lots of Hollywood drama — have turned the Lakers’ preseason of promise into an extended soap opera.

The Lakers have won seven of their past nine games, but still a festering discord between Bryant and Howard exists. Most recently, Howard’s father told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that his son, Bryant and D’Antoni needed to have a meeting to resolve any internal strife.

The Lakers’ latest sideshow was brought on last week by comments made by Bryant to writer Jackie MacMullen. Bryant told MacMullen that the Lakers “don’t have time for [Howard’s shoulder] to heal. ... We need some urgency.”

Howard missed three games in a row with shoulder pain and returned to play against Boston on Thursday. The Lakers lost to the Celtics 116-95. Howard’s father blamed the beef between Bryant and his son on D’Antoni.

“The problem is the coach,” Howard Sr. told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “[D’Antoni] needs to step in and say, ‘You guys have got to be quiet. We’re trying to secure something here.’ Dwight is probably looking at the coach, thinking, ‘What are you going to do?’ I promise, if that had been [former Magic coach] Stan Van Gundy, that wouldn’t have happened. [Howard] wouldn’t have been admonished publicly. I think the coach has a lot to do with who controls Kobe’s mouth right now.”

Howard shrugged off his dad’s comments Saturday at AmericanAirlines Arena, and Bryant wasn’t in the mood to entertain another day of apparent Laker disharmony. “Honestly, I’m done talking about it,” Bryant said. “There’s nothing to talk about. I’m done with it. There’s nothing to discuss. It’s silly.”

Bryant added that any reaction to the comments he made in Boston about Howard is “just making a big deal out nothing.”

For Bryant, it’s simple. He said Howard just has “to do his job, rebound and defend.

“It’s not rocket science,” Bryant said.

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