Back when he sounded giddy over receiving what he called a "dream job," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni hardly envisioned any worst-case scenarios unfolding.

Long-term injuries to Steve Nash (fractured right leg) and Steve Blake (lower abdominal muscle) persisted. Dwight Howard hadn't' fully recovered from 10-month-old back surgery. Endless frustration mounted on changed roles for Howard, Pau Gasol and Antawn Jamison. The losing didn't help, either.

Did D'Antoni learn anything from it?

"I haven't really thought about it," he said. "Just trying to hang on."

Team accounts suggest otherwise.

The Lakers (28-30) remain three games behind the Houston Rockets (31-27) for the eighth and final playoff spot. But with winning eight of their last 12 games, the Lakers attribute part of that success to D'Antoni and the players finding a balance with his fast-paced offense.

"We know it now. He's really had to adjust to us as well, too," said Jamison, who once sat out seven consecutive games. "We know what he wants. We don't take anything personal anymore."

Kobe Bryant has evolved into a facilitator while Nash has morphed into an off-ball shooter. Howard and Nash have executed more pick-and-roll sets.

The Lakers stress they're far from a finished product, though.

"The identity is still coming," Nash said. "We need to find more of a rhythm and flow to what we're doing, which I don't think we've found at all."