GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Mike Woodson will coach the Knicks Thursday night against his former boss, Mike D’Antoni, who makes his first appearance at Madison Square Garden as head coach of the troubled Lakers.
The two teams are headed in opposite directions, but Woodson took no opportunity to gloat or take shots at the man who brought him to New York as a defensive specialist only to ultimately replace D’Antoni.
The Lakers are sporting a 4-8 record under D’Antoni and a 9-13 mark overall, while the Knicks have won seven of eight, are a perfect 8-0 at home and own the best record in the Eastern Conference at 16-5.
“I wish [D’Antoni] the best till we play him because it’s all about the New York Knicks now as far as I’m concerned,” Woodson said Thursday after shootaround.
D’Antoni resigned on March 14 amid frustration over the team’s struggles and clashes with Carmelo Anthony over how the offense should be run. The Knicks were 18-24 at that point.
“It wasn’t a storybook (ending),” D’Antoni told reporters Thursday, according to Barbara Barker of Newsday.
As for his previous comments indicating it was a mistake to take the Knicks job in the first place, D’Antoni said, ” “It was a mistake to leave [Steve] Nash.”
For his part, Woodson said he told the players on the first day he took over during a meeting with owner James Dolan that he would hold them all accountable — especially the stars Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler.
“When I took over the team, maybe I scared them into playing, I don’t know,” Woodson said.
“I had some things that I had to get off my chest being back in the driver’s seat as a coach. And I kind of stated what I wanted and what I expected from guys and who I was going to hold mostly accountable — which was Melo, Amar’e and Tyson at that particular time.”
Woodson said it got “kind of quiet in the room” after he set forth his expectations to the team’s three veterans.
“I was kind of out on a limb when I said that, but I meant it because they’ve done it the longest in the league…” Woodson said.
Steve Novak recalled the team meeting under Woodson that first day.
“He wanted to make sure we all understood that there had to be excitement, we had to really kind of change,” Novak said. “We had to have a different demeanor about us….Coach Dolan came in and Coach Woodson came in, and that’s what they talked about.”
The message worked.
The Knicks finished 18-6 under Woodson and won their first playoff game since 2001 before losing in five games to the eventual NBA champion Miami Heat.
Asked if he had to instill a hard line because it was lacking under D’Antoni, Woodson demured.
“I’m not going to go there with you,” he said. “The bottom line is Mike gave me an opportunity to coach and I’m very grateful for that and I wish Mike nothing but the best.”
D’Antoni was hired to coach the Lakers over Phil Jackson, he of the 11 NBA championships. And so far that has not worked out at all.
Nash and Pau Gasol are injured, Dwight Howard is struggling, Magic Johnson has taken shots at D’Antoni’s offense and D’Antoni has already gotten into a verbal confrontation with a Los Angeles columnist, who asked if D’Antoni felt embarrassed by the team’s play.
“I hate it,” D’Antoni told reporters Tuesday. “I’m down. But I’m not embarrassed.”
Woodson said of the Lakers: “They’ve been struggling some but they’re still a good team. There ain’t no doubt about. Anytime you got Kobe and Howard and Gasol, they’re a good team. They’re a team that’s capable of winning games.”
He said the fact that D’Antoni missed training camp with the Lakers makes it tougher to coach them.
“Everything is new,” Woodson said. “He comes in dry, he’s got a team that he hasn’t coached. And they’re still trying to figure him out and he’s trying to figure his players out. That’s what happens sometimes in changes.”
Meantime, Anthony has thrived under Woodson and with the departure of Jeremy Lin. He is coming off a season-high 45-point outburst in Tuesday’s 100-97 win over Brooklyn and he is being touted as a legitimate MVP candidate.
Now he gets to face the man with whom he clashed last year, but later teamed with to win an Olympic gold medal this past summer.
“The Lakers, we know they’ve been struggling a little bit as of late,” Anthony said after the Nets win. “Everybody [is] trying to step up when they come to the Garden so we wanna try to win that basketball game.”
SMITH TO PLAY
J.R. Smith will play despite battling back spasms.
“I’m going to play him as if he’s 100 percent,” Woodson said. “If I see he’s not, then I’ll go somewhere else.”
Marcus Camby (sore left foot) remains questionable.
NOVAK CREDITS D’ANTONI
Novak credited D’Antoni for helping to revive his career as a shooter.
“Absolutely, without a doubt,” Novak said. “His offense last year and his confidence in me and how he played me was a huge part of my success last year. I think that he really had confidence in me and he valued what I do. Without that, I’m not sure what would’ve happened but there’s no question that that was a dream for me to play for someone who truly valued what I did.”
NO TIMETABLE FOR STOUDEMIRE
Stoudemire, who got married on Wednesday, worked out with the team but there is no precise timetable on his return from a ruptured left popliteal cyst. A return around Christmas is expected.
“He’s still working,” Woodson said. “Don’t really know where he is in terms of getting back but he’s putting his work in and hopefully he’ll be back soon. I just don’t know at this point.”