By GREG BEACHAM
LOS ANGELES — Although Mike D’Antoni still can’t jump, pivot or move on his surgically replaced knee with his usual enthusiasm, he felt plenty strong enough to start work with the Los Angeles Lakers.
D’Antoni also knows it’s usually quite comfortable to be Kobe Bryant’s coach.
Bryant scored six of his 25 points in the final two minutes, and the Lakers hung on for a 95-90 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday night in D’Antoni’s sideline debut.
Although D’Antoni is still unsteady after knee surgery earlier this month, he coached Los Angeles to a narrow victory that snapped Brooklyn’s five-game winning streak. Eight months after leaving the New York Knicks, he seemed thrilled to be in his rightful place on an NBA bench — and to watch his talented new team do its thing.
“With this team, there’s no reason not to win every game,” D’Antoni said. “That’s our goal. It’s not, ‘Let’s get two out of three.’ We can win every game we play. … I feel like we’re the best team in the league. We’ve got the most talent, so they can do what they want. We’ve just got to keep perfecting things.”
D’Antoni clearly isn’t at full strength: He hobbled slowly on the sideline on the rare occasions he left his chair during play in the first half. He moved around with more vigor after halftime, protesting foul calls with his usual theatrical vehemence despite a slight limp in his step.
“I was a little peg-legged, but it was good,” D’Antoni said with a laugh. “Adrenalin is a great thing. I’m good, (but) jumping is a thing of the past.”
Dwight Howard had 23 points and 15 rebounds despite a horrific 7-for-19 performance at the free-throw line for the Lakers, who have won five of six and moved above .500 since firing Mike Brown. Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace scored 17 points apiece. Gasol contributed 11 rebounds and seven assists as the Lakers wrapped up a tumultuous six-game homestand that began with Brown’s unexpected firing 11 days ago.
“We’re definitely playing with better flow,” Gasol said. “We’re playing with more confidence, looser out there.”
The Lakers went 4-1 under interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff, but D’Antoni finally took over the bench nine days after he was hired. Los Angeles largely couldn’t play at his favored tempo, but D’Antoni quickly learned the benefits of coaching Bryant, who took over in the final minutes.
Bryant has played for D’Antoni on various U.S. national teams.
“It’s the same as it’s always been,” Bryant said. “He’s always very calm, but he still has an undertone edge to him. He’s the same D’Antoni. … We’re just getting more in sync with each other. For the most part, we’re doing a pretty good job taking care of the ball.”
Brook Lopez scored 23 points and Deron Williams had 22 for the Nets, who missed five of their last six shots in their ninth consecutive loss to the Lakers.
“It was definitely frustrating,” Williams said. “We were right there and we battled the whole game. We had control of the game at one point, but we didn’t make shots down the stretch. We had plenty of chances to tie it. We were getting the stops we needed, and put them on the free throw line a couple of times, but we just didn’t make enough plays down the stretch and we didn’t convert.”
After taking a narrow lead through three quarters, the Lakers missed their first seven shots in the fourth and fell behind mostly due to their All-Star center’s incompetence at the line. Brooklyn deliberately fouled Howard in the fourth quarter, when he went 3 for 10.
Los Angeles still took the lead on Gasol’s free throw with 2:37 to play, and Bryant hit a running hook shot after Joe Johnson airballed a jumper moments later. Johnson cut the lead to one point on a fast-break layup with 36 seconds left, but Bryant hit four free throws in the final 17.1 seconds while Williams missed a potential tying 3-pointer with 4 seconds left.
Johnson scored 14 points for the Nets, who finish their three-game California road trip at Golden State on Wednesday night.
“I thought Deron did a great job of quarterbacking the team and getting it to our pace,” Nets coach Avery Johnson said. “We wish we could have had a few more shots fall in the fourth quarter, but our team laid it all out on the floor. They showed a lot of heart, something that we didn’t see early in the season — especially in a road game at Miami.”