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And though Jackson has criticized the Lakers' handling of his candidacy, the players who had been eager to play for the Zen Master seem equally eager to line up for D'Antoni. Bryant and Steve Nash enthusiastically endorsed D'Antoni's hiring at the morning shootaround, with Bryant downplaying the notion that the Lakers' defense would suffer during the offense-minded coach's tenure.
"We're playing much, much better," Bryant said. "We're being much more aggressive on both ends of the floor. We're doing a good job communicating during the game, pushing guys and making them take tough shots."
Both teams struggled with poor shooting until the final minutes, when Antawn Jamison's 3-pointer from the corner put the Lakers ahead 78-77 with 2:10 to play. Duncan reclaimed the lead with a jumper, but Gasol hit two free throws with 1:36 left and added an elbow jumper.
Duncan trimmed the lead to one point before Metta World Peace missed an open jumper in the final minute, leading to the timeout in which Popovich drew it up for Green.
"Pop ran a play for Danny, and I think that was a great call, because Kobe always has a tendency to stay in the paint and think it's a play for me or for Timmy," Parker said. "Then we finished it off with a great play defensively. Kawhi did a great job denying Kobe."
The Lakers played without point guard Steve Blake, who has a minor abdominal strain. Blake had started the Lakers' last five games in place of Nash, who will be out for another week or more with a small fracture in his leg.
Darius Morris had one point on 0-for-5 shooting in his first NBA start in Blake's place, while veteran backup Chris Duhon managed five points. The Lakers played without a point guard down the stretch, with World Peace defending Parker while Bryant largely orchestrated the Lakers' offense.
NOTES: The Lakers barely exceeded the 80 points they scored in February 1999 during their lowest-scoring performance ever in their first 146 meetings with the Spurs. ... World Peace celebrated his 33rd birthday. The eccentric forward said he has enjoyed multiple birthday parties over the past few days. ... Floyd Mayweather Jr., Minnesota Vikings lineman Matt Kalil and David Beckham attended the game.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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