Mike D’Antoni has felt the pressure of late as the New York Knicks were on an epic skid that saw the club lose six straight games before back-to-back rallying performances against the Orlando Magic and New Jersey Nets this week. Even though Carmelo Anthony has now put forth back-to-back 39 point efforts for the Knicks they still face major problems looming ahead mainly due to the fact that the team just does not play good defense. D’Antoni is not known as a defensive specialist and if Anthony and Stoudemire do not drop over 25-30 points a night the Knicks are in trouble.
One thing is certain and that’s the fact that the blame game is squarely on the head coach. When a team with “talent” struggles generally the head coach is the first one to have the finger pointed at him and D’Antoni understands that comes with the job territory, especially in New York. He believes the Knicks may have just been a little bit worn out of late due to the stretch of games that saw New York play in 12 contests in 18 days. He also feels that the Carmelo Anthony trade has been an adjustment due to little practice time and no training camp. None of it really matters though because D’Antoni knows the goal is the postseason. The Knicks may indeed finally get there with a 37-38 record in the marginal lower half of the Eastern Conference.
Mike D’Antoni joined ESPN New York on The Michael Kay Show to discuss Amar’e Stoudemire being exhausted at this juncture of the season, the Knicks not being fired up to play every game each night with their inconsistent play of late, why Chauncey Billups has struggled, everyone blaming him for the Knicks struggles, does he think ripping George Karl would be a good defense to protect his guy in Carmelo Anthony, is he okay with the players defensive efforts and did he think twenty games into the Carmelo Anthony trade that the Knicks would look like this.
Let me throw this one your way. It seems like Amar’e Stoudemire is exhausted? Is he?
“Well you know maybe he is in a little bit of a down period. You know we played him a little bit much. He’s probably played in his career…he’s played 3 or 4 minutes more this year than the other years. I don’t think it’s totally that. I think emotionally it’s a little bit out of sorts in the offense right now. It’s a little bit of a down period. I do think with some rest here in the next couple of weeks we can…you know we need to make the playoffs obviously and we gotta do that. Once we do that we can get him some rest and get him back, ready for the playoffs.
The frustrating thing is you get wins against Atlanta, Orlando and Miami. Than you lose games to Cleveland, Indiana and Milwaukee. Is this team just not maybe fired up to play against the teams behind them in the standings than they are the teams ahead of them?
“Well I think that’s some of it especially early, I think that we did have some great wins and there’s all kinds of reasons for it. A lot of times when you play there’s also seepage you know if you watch the team and you watch a game and it looks pretty good today, tomorrow a little bit less, but it’s not noticeable. If you go two weeks from now it’s like oh my gosh we’re not on track. A little bit of that and we got fooled a little bit. We got them all in here and we were going great guns at first than Chauncey [Billups] got hurt and so we were still going great guns. When he [Chauncey Billups] came back it just seemed like not his fault, but the whole team just kind of took a sigh [saying] ‘okay emotionally we’re down,’ than we started getting beat, now we’re choking a little bit, but not choking, but not playing without any cares out there. Than you start worrying about things. We just started to keep going down and maybe Amar’e was a little bit tired to bring us out of it you know he could of just taken the whole team and just taken us up, but he may have been worn out by that time. Just a lot of stuff going through our minds and a lot of stuff that we have to try to figure out, but the biggest thing is to hold steady, understand where we are, just get into the playoffs, just get this thing done and try to figure out what our problems are in the 4th quarter.”
Chauncey Billups looks completely out of sorts. We’re wondering is it because all of a sudden he’s old? Is he having trouble grasping a new offense that he’s learning? What’s the deal with him?
“Well you know again he’s been struggling a little bit like everybody else. New stuff without training camp, we’re asking him to do things that maybe he hasn’t done before. I don’t even know, playing in a different way, not being real comfortable, getting hurt, coming back and you know you lose your confidence a little bit. Than also the other guys around haven’t been playing well, so sometimes that reflects on the point guard. Now what are we going to do? This guy isn’t going well or whatever, so just a lot of things and hopefully he’ll be able to rebound a little bit.”
Now I don’t know how much you listen to talk radio. You shouldn’t because fans are going out of their mind. You don’t need to know who’s defending you. Everybody seems to be blaming you for the problems?
“That’s fine. Rightfully so in the sense of you know I’m guiding the ship and the ship right now is taking on some water, so you know obviously that would be the easy thing to do. I’ve got to do a better job like everybody else, but I’ve got to figure it out first. There are a lot of things going on. Our pace is down. We were averaging about 98 possessions per game. Now we’re down to about 89/88. We played good for three quarters, but you think you got it knocked. You think rotation is right and in the 4th quarter, whoops it’s not right. A lot of things you hit on something you think you got something solved than two games later it’s not solved. It just didn’t happen in that game. A lot of times you don’t box out well one game you don’t box out the ball doesn’t bounce anywhere so you think you’re okay, but you’re not okay. There are a lot of things going in that we are just trying to figure out how to play better.”
We had on Marc Jackson last week and he told us that George Karl is taking all these shots in the media at Carmelo Anthony. Jackson feels if you defend your player publicly and rip George Karl back it would best suite the team? What do you think about that? Do you think that is an unfair assessment?
“Well I don’t think that’s very productive in any way. You don’t start taking shots at people. Carmelo knows I’ve got his corner. We’re trying to get through this. We’re trying to get the right thing. George [Karl] is a great coach and he’s entitled to his opinion. You know I just don’t think you just play it out in the public. That’s good fodder. That’s good TV. That’s good this-and-that. I don’t think that serves anybody’s purpose.”
Are you okay with the players defensive effort?
“A little bit better against Orlando. It’s not the greatest in the world, but I don’t know if we’ll ever be the greatest in the world. We have to be in the top-top half of the group. It was a better effort. You know that’s what we’re trying to do and we’re trying to get them to play harder.”
It’s been twenty games now since the trade. Has this gone as you expected since the Carmelo Anthony trade? Did you expect a fast start or pot holes and speed bumps?
“Well I was worried right when we did the trade. I was really worried about it because of the time constraint and you know literally they just took a physical and went out on the floor and played. Than we just started as I said 12 games in 18 days, but you know getting time off and we had very few practice days and no training camp. Normally you go through a training camp in a month, month and a half, and you try to figure it out, but I felt the way we started it looked great. Then Chauncey [Billups] got hurt and we still looked good. I was getting a little more comfortable thinking okay maybe we’ll be alright. And than we hit a skid that I was worried about before. Now just with the pressure on and all that we’re just trying to hold it steady and just trying to figure out some problems.”