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)

Anthony Scores 39, Knicks Beat Hawks 113-112

The Hawks took their final lead at 112-111 on Joe Johnson’s 3-pointer with 1:50 left. Anthony countered with a jumper 10 seconds later for the final margin.

Off an inbound play with three seconds remaining, Atlanta’s Marvin Williams beat Amare Stoudemire off the dribble at the top of the lane. But as he went for a dunk just before the buzzer, Stoudemire blocked the shot. Williams, who led Atlanta with a season-high 29 points, wanted a foul call on Anthony or Stoudemire, both of whom appeared to make contact.

Stoudemire started at center in place of Tyson Chandler, who was resting a sore knee.

The teams combined for 27 3-pointers on 42 attempts.

Stoudemire added 22 points and 12 rebounds in his second game after missing 13 with a sore back. Jeff Teague scored 23 for Atlanta, and Johnson had 22.

Knicks coach Mike Woodson gave Chandler the day off after New York played seven games in 11 days, and he was missed. The Knicks entered the game allowing 118.5 points in two games without Chandler and 93.8 when he plays.

Landry Fields, who moved into the starting lineup at forward Sunday, and Anthony scored 12 points each in the third quarter, and the Knicks made 7-of-8 3-pointers in the period to take a 94-93 lead. Fields finished with 18 points in a rare start.

The Hawks hold the No. 5 spot in the East and still have hopes of securing home-court advantage in a likely first-round matchup against the Celtics.

The Knicks are a half game ahead of Philadelphia for the No. 7 spot in the East.

NOTES: Knicks forward Jared Jeffries missed his third straight game with a sore right knee, and Woodson said he will not play in the last two regular-season games Wednesday against the Clippers and Thursday at Charlotte. … Knicks uber-fan Spike Lee was at the game.