The Knicks Fix: The Knicks Are Back?
Saturday, February 25, 2017
By Alan Hahn
Frank Vogel provided nothing for the bulletin board the way Danny Granger did. The Indiana Pacers coach was complimentary of the Knicks after blowing his team out Friday night at Madison Square Garden.
"This is an extremely talented team, maybe one of the most talented teams in the NBA," Vogel said. "And they're playing with a renewed sense of urgency because of the coaching change, like all teams do with coaching changes.
"They're a force right now," he then added.
With two dominant wins since Mike D'Antoni's departure, the Knicks remain an unpredictable entity. No one with any clue about basketball believed they were as bad as they were during most of the six game losing streak. But are they as good as they have looked -- especially on defense -- in these last two games?
Tonight's finale in the home-and-home, back-to-back with the Pacers will be yet another test, one interim coach Mike Woodson called "an important game." Woodson is trying to get the Knicks' into a playoff mentality right now as they battle with the Mikwaukee Bucks for the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoff standings.
"When you play teams back-to-back," he said, "you have to play it like a playoff game."
It begs the question: where was this mentality two weeks ago, when the Knicks gave away a three-game cushion for that final spot -- and were within reach of first place in the Atlantic Division? Was it really a matter of changing voices?
"We got our focus back," Tyson Chandler said. "We are coming with a sense of urgency."
That urgency, as Kelly Tripucka pointed out on the Post Game Show, is that there is no one left to blame if the team continued to downspiral after D'Antoni left. All of the focus is now on the players, so it's up to them to give an honest effort every game and play to their potential.
"That losing streak was an eye-opener for us," Steve Novak said. "When you're losing, you feel like you're doing everything wrong. We just don't want to go back to losing like that."
It started with defense. Woodson has the Knicks playing extremely aggressive and trapping high. In two dominant first quarters against the Trail Blazers and Pacers, neither team was ever allowed to comfortably get into their sets. The energy generated by the defense has fed the offense.
And at that end of the floor, not much has changed: the emphasis remains on sharing the ball. The Knicks scored 115 points against Indiana, but they didn't have a single player score 20 points.
There is still a long way to go. At 20-24, this is still a team below .500 and still with very little room for error in the final 22 games.
"As a unit," Carmelo Anthony said, "we know our time is now."
ACCOUNTABILITY IN FULL VIEW
The Trail Blazers were upset with the Knicks for showboating late in the 42-point win on Wednesday and there were signs of more unnecessary styling as the game against Indiana reached a 30-point lead. J.R. Smith caught an alley-oop from Mike Bibby that he not only threw down reverse, but then hung on the rim for added impact. Smith was called for a technical foul.
He was then summoned to the principal's office, as Woodson pulled him from the game and met him on the sideline for a brief chat. Reading his lips, Woodson said to Smith, "This is what we talked about," and went on to remind him about playing the right way.
Afterward, Woodson told the media that the discussion would remain private, as it should, but it was important for fans -- and teammates -- to see Woodson publicly address Smith in the moment.
“If you’re sincere about what you want to get accomplished as a player you’ll figure it out and it’s my job to make you figure it out," Woodson said. "I’m big on details. I struggle with players that don’t play hard. That’s one thing that I’ve got to hold these guys accountable to do, is to play hard every night."
Baron Davis suffered a strained right hamstring in the first half and did not return to the game. According to MSG Network's Knicks reporter Tina Cervasio, Baron did not make the trip to Indiana and hopes to be ready by Wednesday's game against the 76ers.
Woodson used rookie Iman Shumpert in a three-guard rotation with Smith and Jeremy Lin in the second half and will likely stick with that plan. Could this open up an opportunity for Toney Douglas? The third-year guard has been buried on the bench since early February.
But Douglas won't be available in Indiana because he remains away from the team to celebrate the birth of his son, according to ESPN New York's Jared Zwerling. Douglas is expected back for practice on Monday and should be in the lineup Tuesday against the Raptors.
ADDITIONS TO THE COACHING STAFF
When Mike D'Antoni left, his brother, Dan, and another longtime assistant, Phil Weber, went with him. It left Woodson with just two assistants: Herb Williams and Kenny Atkinson. But Woodson said on Friday that he will add to his staff two more assistants, who are expected to be with the team this weekend.
Woodson will bring in Darrell Walker, a former Knick, and longtime NBA assistant Jim Todd.
Also joining the entourage will be Woodson's personal mentor, Bill Smith, who was his coach at Broad Ripple High in Indianapolis all those years ago. Smith, Woodson said, is "kind of my confidant" and the two worked together when Woodson was head coach of the Atlanta Hawks.
"He'll sit with me and share ideas," Woodson said, "and be my eyes and ears."
LUCK OF THE IRISH?
The Knicks, who were founded, fittingly, by a man named Ned Irish, will wear their green uniforms to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.
Some memorable St. Patrick's Day performances:
1994: Knicks defeat the Bucks 105-83 at the Garden for an eighth-straight game in which they held an opponent under 90 points. It tied an NBA shot clock-era record set by the Syracuse Nationals in 1954-55.
1998: With just nine players in uniform because of injuries, the Knicks beat the 76ers, 100-96, at the Garden behind 31 points from Allan Houston. Anthony Bowie, in his first start, had 10 points and five rebounds.
2006: Jamal Crawford drilled a jumper with 2.2 seconds left to cap a comeback for a 105-103 win over the Detroit Pistons at the Garden.
2011: Toney Douglas tied a franchise record with nine three-pointers as the Knicks set a franchise record with 20 threes in a 120-99 win over the Memphis Grizzlies at the Garden.