Knicks’ Woodson Is a Reflection of His Mentors

Coaching careers usually begin with some mix of ambition and intent. Woodson’s began with a double-cross, a mischievous misdirection play by his friend and mentor, Cotton Fitzsimmons.

Woodson, drafted as a scoring guard by the in 1980, had retired from basketball after a respectable 11-year career. He was happily building his real-estate portfolio in Indianapolis when Fitzsimmons — his former coach in Kansas City and Sacramento — asked him to help with the Suns’ summer-league team.

“You’d be an excellent coach,” Fitzsimmons told him.

“Absolutely not,” Woodson said.

The deal was closed when Fitzsimmons promised a week of golf. The ruse was exposed on Woodson’s first morning, when Fitzsimmons departed the gym with his golf bag and left Woodson in charge.

“Cotton, what am I supposed to do?” Woodson said to his friend.

“Coach the team,” Fitzsimmons said.

Woodson chuckles at the memory.

“He played golf every day,” Woodson recalled, his broad smile stretching his stern black goatee. “I coached them. I never got to play golf, not one time.”

In that week, the reluctant student would become an energized and demanding coach, launching a second career he never envisioned.

Nearly two decades later, Woodson, 54, is still coaching (well), golfing (badly) and summoning the lessons of his famed mentors — from to Red Holzman to Fitzsimmons to — while embracing the greatest challenge of his career: steadying a perpetually wobbly Knicks franchise.

The Knicks are 8-1 since Woodson replaced Mike D’Antoni as the head coach. They have crushed the Indiana Pacers, outhustled the Philadelphia 76ers and humiliated the Orlando Magic and pushed their way over .500 (26-25) for the first time in two months.

The surge has burnished the reputation of Woodson, who spent a year out of the N.B.A. after being fired as head coach by the Atlanta Hawks in 2010. He makes his first return to Atlanta on Friday, as the Knicks take on a Hawks team now in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, two spots ahead of New York.

The Knicks’ emerging personality is now a blend of D’Antoni’s kinetic offense, Woodson’s grinding half-court sets and a defensive grit rarely seen at Madison Square Garden since Jeff Van Gundy’s departure more than a decade ago.

“It’s no accident,” said Isiah Thomas, Woodson’s longtime friend and former teammate at Indiana University. “I think what we’re seeing is if Woodson gets the right pieces and players, he can do it.”

The new buzzwords in the Knicks’ locker room — hustle, accountability, shared responsibility — reflect the ethos of their new coach, and by extension the men who groomed him.

In games, Woodson exudes Knight’s steely discipline, stopping players on the sideline to deliver an impromptu lecture.

In his verbiage, Woodson sometimes assumes Brown’s philosopher-coach persona, speaking earnestly of “playing the right way” and the need to “teach” his players.

Though his Hawks playbook was derided as isolation-heavy, Woodson actually favors the share-the-ball mentality preached by Holzman. And off the court, Woodson radiates Fitzsimmons’s collegiality, with a far-reaching network of N.B.A. friends who praise his dedication, his passion, his sense of humor and his loyalty.

Woodson is the one who invites everyone to dinner on the road, who loans cuff links to forgetful staff members, who is the first to call when a friend has been fired.

“He’s just a really good, decent guy who respects the game and is loyal as hell and loves to coach and teach,” said Brown, who hired Woodson in Philadelphia (2001-3) and again in Detroit (2003-4, when the Pistons won the N.B.A. championship). “And he’s fun to be around.”

Tim Rohan contributed reporting.

Lakers Go 3-1 Up on Nuggets, 76ers, Knicks Win

Sessions landed the go-ahead score that put the Lakers on top 89-86 with 48 seconds left, then reserve Blake made a dagger three-pointer on a pass from Kobe Bryant with 18 seconds remaining to bury the Nuggets.

“I was letting (Kobe) know (I was open) throughout the game, even when I missed one, I said ‘I’m going to make the next one,'” Blake told reporters after tallying eight of his 10 points in the fourth quarter.

Bryant scored 22 points to go with eight rebounds and six assists to leave the Lakers able to secure a second round spot with a win in Game Five on Tuesday in Los Angeles.

Oklahoma City Thunder await the winner of the series.

Denver were coming off a 15-point home triumph over the Lakers in Game Three but they failed to recapture their fast-paced style and allowed the Lakers to slow them.

Danilo Gallinari had a team-high 20 for the Nuggets, who led for much of a tight game, but were shot down in the end.

In the Eastern Conference, Boston and Philadelphia each seized 3-1 series leads while New York avoided being swept by Miami and cut their series deficit to 3-1.

In Boston, Paul Pierce shook off a first-half knee injury to score 24 points while Rajon Rondo sliced up the defense with 20 points and 16 assists as the Celtics blew away Atlanta 101-79.

Pierce briefly went down with a left knee injury in the second quarter, but returned after halftime to spark one of Boston’s best offensive performances of the playoffs.

“Ball movement. We started with stops and played together,” Rondo told reporters after the Celtics shot 51 percent and made 11 three-pointers.

In Philadelphia, the eighth-seeded 76ers moved within a game of eliminating the injury-depleted Chicago Bulls as they scored their third consecutive victory over the East’s top seeds, winning 89-82.

A victory on Tuesday in Chicago would give the 76ers their first playoff series win in nine years. “I think we’re confident,” 76ers forward Elton Brand told reporters. “But we don’t want to come back for Game Six. We want to finish this.”

Spencer Hawes paced the 76ers with 22 points, making nine of 11 shots from the field, and Jrue Holiday added 20 after a sluggish start.

Chicago hung in for much of the game despite playing without injured center Joakim Noah, who has a sprained ankle, and 2011 Most Valuable Player Derrick Rose, who is out for the season.

(Reporting by Jahmal Corner. Editing by Patrick Johnston)

Knicks Rest Chandler, and Are Able to Exhale at the Finish

Before they took the court against the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday, the Knicks took a calculated gamble, choosing to rest Tyson Chandler, their defensive conscience, even if it might mean giving up a game and a chance to change the standings.

It all turned out O.K. — albeit by mere inches and mere tenths of a second — when Atlanta’s Marvin Williams blew a driving dunk at the final buzzer, allowing the Knicks to escape with a 113-112 victory.

Amar’e Stoudemire and converged on Williams as he drove the lane, challenging him just enough to prevent the basket. On a day when neither team played much defense, that was the only stand that mattered.

“It was a good drive by him,” said Stoudemire, who looked lively in his second game back from a back injury. “He attacked the rim well. I think Melo and myself both had our hands on the ball, so it was tough for him to make that basket.”

Replays showed that Williams did not release the ball before the buzzer sounded, which was also a credit to the Knicks, for delaying him just long enough on the drive. Williams had intended to hand the ball back to Joe Johnson, but Iman Shumpert cut off the pass.

Replays also appeared to show some contact between Stoudemire and Williams, although Stoudemire denied it.

“I drove the ball and I felt like I got fouled at the end,” Williams said. “But they didn’t call it, so you just move on to the next one.”

It was an encouraging moment for the Knicks all the way around — for the victory it preserved and for Stoudemire’s stout effort in Chandler’s place. He finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds and absorbed several hard hits, appearing every bit recovered from the bulging disk that cost him 13 games.

“I felt great, I felt strong,” he said. “My back feels phenomenal.”

Anthony, who struggled Friday in Cleveland, regained his touch with a 39-point, 10-rebound effort while alternately dueling with Johnson (22 points), Williams (29) and Josh Smith (14). Jeff Teague added 23 points for the Hawks (38-26), who are practically locked into the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference.

The victory kept the Knicks (34-30) in seventh place, with a half-game lead on the Philadelphia 76ers (33-30), with two games to play. The Knicks also kept alive their slim hopes to catch Orlando (36-28), which lost to Denver on Sunday night, for sixth.

Coach Mike Woodson agreed to Chandler’s request for a day off, concluding it was more important to protect his defensive anchor than to jockey for playoff position. “I think so,” Woodson said. “For him, it is.”

Chandler plans to return to the lineup Wednesday night, when the Knicks close their home schedule against the Los Angeles Clippers. They conclude the regular season Thursday in Charlotte. The playoffs begin two days later.

Chandler is not injured, but he has played a team-high 2,029 minutes and is averaging 36 a game in April.

“I want to be fresh for the playoffs,” Chandler said. “And the coaching staff and medical staff thought it would be best for me to get rest here, because we have one game in four days.”

Without Chandler to hold the defense together, the Knicks turned porous, giving up 65 points in the first half and allowing the Hawks to shoot 58 percent through three quarters. They finally responded in the fourth, holding Atlanta to 7-for-18 shooting.

“It just shows how valuable Tyson Chandler is to our ball club,” Woodson said, adding: “We missed him. We stayed the course.”

Woodson smiled as he called the game an “old-school shootout,” but then admitted: “Yeah, I hated it. I’d like to see some defense.”

The Knicks’ offense more than compensated, as all five starters scored in double figures, including a resurgent Landry Fields, who produced 18 points and went 7 for 8 from the field.

The lead changed hands four times in the final 3 minutes 7 seconds, with the Knicks finally taking a 113-112 lead on Anthony’s 22-footer with 1:40 left. The Knicks blew two chances to pad the lead in the final minute, with J. R. Smith throwing the ball away and Anthony missing a quick 3-pointer with 5.9 seconds left.

REBOUNDS

Jared Jeffries rested his sore right knee again Sunday and will be held out of the final two games as well, Mike Woodson said. He is expected back for Game 1 of the playoffs, however. “We’re playing well right now,” Jeffries said. “I can take this time to get myself back ready.” Assuming he skips the final two games, Jeffries will have played in just 6 of the 19 final regular-season games. He reiterated that he did not need surgery. “It’s just playing 10 years in the league,” he said. “It’s just a bad knee.” … Woodson said he also considered resting Carmelo Anthony but that Anthony preferred to play. “He knows his body,” Woodson said. “I’m sure if there’s any issues there, he’ll tell me and we’ll back off.”