PORTLAND – The mood in the Knicks locker room late Saturday was an odd mixture of sorrow for letting down fired coach David Fizdale but optimism that perhaps things are headed in the right direction after they displayed a renewed sharpness.
Randle called the 104-103 loss in interim coach Mike Miller’s debut a potential “turning point” as the club defended fiercely and dove to the floor for loose balls.
Was it Miller’s presence or a players-only meeting conducted before Friday’s practice that Knicks president Steve Mills never even knew about before he axed Fizdale?
“Miller’s a better technician than Fizdale and a better on-court communicator,” said one NBA coaching source.
However, it’s a sad irony that Fizdale won’t reap the benefits of the productive gathering.
“It was what we needed,” Randle said. “Nobody’s going to turn this around except us. We just have to keep doing what we were doing (Saturday) and we’re going to win. I think we’re going to get over the hump.”
Marcus Morris called the meeting, which featured themes such as better ball movement, effort and passing out of double teams. Obviously, Randle has been the largest culprit but had a sound two-way game Saturday. Though he botched the second free throw with 0.1 seconds left, Randle had battled for the offensive rebound to get to the line.
“It was about the direction we’re going in as a team and holding us accountable and being professional,” Morris said. “It was a very good meeting. As men, we have to do our job better.”
Maybe if Mills knew about this session, he would have held off. The firing made it that much more painful to the players that Fizdale got sacked after Friday’s practice. The meeting came a trifle too late.
Morris and Taj Gibson were still in the facility and staged one final Fizdale chat. Fizdale, the players said, was still motivating them to the end, telling them to keep the leadership coming.
“He’s that type of guy,” Morris said. “He’s always preached when he first walked in here that he’s preparing us for greater things. Fiz is one of those type of guys that will be around the league for a long time. It didn’t work out here. But we’ve got to keep going forward, keep getting better. Coach Mike, he’s going to step in, he’s going to do a great job. We’ve got a lot of respect for him and I’m excited to see how he grows.”
Mitchell Robinson said he “appreciated” the Fizdale way.
“When he was here, it was a family thing,” Robinson said. “He’s still going to be a part of us no matter what. I really don’t care what nobody say. He’s still a part of us. He looked after us outside of basketball. And I appreciate that from him.”
Late Saturday, Miller talked about his NBA head-coaching debut being “a fun game” that the Knicks played at “a consistent level.”
After losing by a combined 81 points in their previous two outings, a one-point last-second defeat against a tough Pacers team tasted like chocolate candy. The Knicks held Indiana scoreless in the final five minutes and Elfrid Payton may have emerged as their new starting point guard, as he did early this season before getting hurt.
Despite a losing streak that reached nine games and a record that dipped to a league-worst 4-19, Miller, the Knicks’ former G League coach appeared satisfied. He obviously pleased his bosses, who have told Miller they are looking for “consistency on both ends of the floor.”
The locker room had a good vibe before the club flew to Portland. They were to practice in the Pacific Northwest Sunday and Monday to get used to the time change before tipping off their four-game Western swing vs. Carmelo Anthony’s Trail Blazers on Tuesday.
“That was a great game to watch, the effort was incredible,” Miller said. “One thing we did see was a level of consistency that we talked about. I’m really proud of the effort. We put out ourselves in a great position.”
Miller’s debut was still overshadowed by Mills declining to speak to the media about the firing. It’s almost unheard of in professional sports, but possibly understandable with the president on thin ice.
To boot, the players gave the impression management had put a gag order on them regarding the details of the firing.
“If they’re not going to give you a reason, I’m not going to speak on it,” Morris said.
It’s no surprise the Knicks have become the punching bags around the NBA with coaches bashing the organization. The Knicks are heading to seven straight seasons out of the playoffs with one playoff series win since 2001.
Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr, Stan Van Gundy and Rick Carlisle have hammered the Knicks. On Saturday, Carlisle, who has lost to the Knicks twice this season said, “I’m happy for Fizdale to be out of that terrible mess that he had nothing to do with.”
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