New York Knicks owner James Dolan said his team has the talent and character to succeed after losing the coach hired to bring the franchise a championship. For at least one night, the players backed him up.
Hours after coach Mike D’Antoni’s resignation, Carmelo Anthony scored 16 points and the Knicks made 19 3-pointers in their most lopsided win of the season, 121-79 over the Portland Trail Blazers at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
The victory last night ended a six-game losing streak that has left the Knicks tied for the eighth and final playoff spot in the National Basketball Association’s Eastern Conference.
“I want to be clear,” Dolan, chairman of Madison Square Garden (MSG) Co., the team’s parent company, said during a news conference after D’Antoni was replaced by assistant Mike Woodson. “I believe in our players. I believe in our talent. I believe in their commitment to keep the team together and get this right. I believe these guys can do it.”
The Knicks got a season-high seven assists from Anthony, an All-Star forward who yesterday via Twitter denied a New York Post report that he wanted to be traded because of a fractured relationship with D’Antoni. Much of the criticism of the Knicks during the slide had been aimed at Anthony, whose return from injury coincided with New York’s struggles.
“There always has to be a scapegoat,” Knicks center Tyson Chandler said. “It fell on Melo.”
While Anthony was out, the Knicks and their new starting point guard, the Harvard University-educated Jeremy Lin, became the toast of the league with a seven-game unbeaten streak.
Linsanity Takes Over
Lin became one of the most talked-about athletes in the world, selling more jerseys than any NBA player since Feb. 4, according to the league, which doesn’t provide specific sales figures. The hysteria surrounding the player and team became known as Linsanity, which fueled record ratings on the MSG Network and higher ticket prices on the secondary market and prompted broadcasters in Asia to add Knicks games to their schedules. Lin credited D’Antoni’s up-tempo, share-the-ball style for his success.
“I’m not going to forget what he did for me,” Lin said. “I owe a lot to him.”
The seven-game winning streak was followed by nine losses in D’Antoni’s last 12 games.
Anthony told reporters after the game that he had nothing to do with the coaching change and that he was as shocked as anyone when told.
“In life, there are times change can be for the better,” Anthony said. “He felt like the team needed change. I wish it was under better circumstances.”
Woodson, 53, who posted a 206-286 record as coach with the Atlanta Hawks in 2004-10, said the first thing he told the players last night was to take a deep breath and relax. Then he told them their effort and results would be rewarded.
“It’s an emotional day when you lose your head coach, a lot of players on this team were attached to Mike,” Woodson said. “They responded.”
New York led by 13 points after the first quarter and by 26 at halftime. Portland committed 23 turnovers and shot 37 percent from the field. The Knicks shot 54 percent.
J.R. Smith came off the bench to lead the Knicks with 23 points, including seven 3-pointers. Fellow reserve Steve Novak hit six 3-pointers and had 20 points.
Lin had six points, six assists and six turnovers.
The Knicks hired D’Antoni as coach and Donnie Walsh as team president in 2008 to resurrect a salary-burdened franchise that had seven straight losing seasons, including a team-record-tying 59 losses in 2007-08 under then-president and coach Isiah Thomas. D’Antoni was given a four-year contract worth $24 million.
As coach of the Phoenix Suns for five seasons, D’Antoni became known for a high-powered offense, directing his players to get off a shot within seven seconds of gaining possession. The Suns led the NBA in scoring for three straight seasons beginning in 2004-05 and reached the Western Conference finals in 2005 and 2007.
That type of attack -- and success in the standings -- never took root with the Knicks. New York is 12th in scoring among the NBA’s 30 franchises this season, averaging 96.7 points per game. D’Antoni finished with a 121-167 and one playoff appearance in New York.
Woodson’s game plan was still on the whiteboard in the locker room after the game. It read: “Play Smart. Play Hard. Play Together. Have Fun.”
“For a long time we haven’t been having fun,” Chandler said. “Tonight, it was fun.”
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