Pat Riley’s Presence Is Still Felt if Not Heard

We still get an occasional glimpse of the competitive fire, as when LeBron James was knocked down from behind Saturday by Tyson Chandler and leapt out of his seat across the court from the home-team bench.

We still feel his presence in the hallways of American Airlines Arena and measure his influence in the phraseology of his coaches and players.

But we cannot hear Riley anymore. We do not breathlessly await his next motivational mantra. Once he was a grand N.B.A. philosopher. Now Riley has transitioned into a spiritual Buddha, lurking but elusive in his commanding role as the president of the .

“Very few guys in the N.B.A. have a presence about them,” said Shane Battier, the reserve forward. “Pat Riley has a presence. He is a living legend. He knows of what he speaks.”

Except to the world outside his immediate basketball family, Riley has gone professionally silent, to the point where he might still pass as an employee of a certain uptight organization he used to work for in New York. Riley has not once discussed the state of the Heat with reporters this season. Anyone who makes a request might as well be asking for an audience with the Wizard of Oz.

He remains a striking figure, a dapper charmer, quick as ever with acknowledgment and wit. When the Heat last played at Madison Square Garden, a reporter who covered Riley when he was the hired savior of that storied building all but collided with him while navigating the remodeled corridors.

“Are you still here?” Riley said, offering a hand.

Before the reporter could reply — much less prime his recorder — Riley had turned the corner and disappeared.

“He is almost mythical nowadays,” Battier said, laughing.

What is Riley — who gave us such canny axioms as “Winning and Misery” and “No Rebounds, No Rings” — attempting to prove?

“You probably have to ask him,” Erik Spoelstra, who has been the Heat’s coach since 2008 and has worked for Riley for 17 years, said after the Heat finished preparations Sunday for Game 2 of their playoff series with the on Monday night.

“I’d like to, but I can’t,” the reporter said.

Spoelstra grinned and said: “Which I like.”

Which is also the point stretched to the extreme, in the classic Riley tradition since his rise to prominence as the four-time championship coach of the Los Angeles Lakers.

“You’ve got to let the head coach be a head coach,” Dwyane Wade said. “The players have to see that as well. Every now and then, you’ll see him around, or he’ll call you up to that nice office. But for the most part, he stays back, stays out of it when it comes to the players, and he’s been doing that for a couple of years.”

Does Riley still smart from the news media beating he took for uprooting Stan Van Gundy as the Heat coach — reportedly at Shaquille O’Neal’s behest — before leading the team to the title in 2006? One could make the retrospective case that the ends justified the means. But Old Man Riles, 67, has the second-longest chief executive tenure in the N.B.A. (behind Sacramento’s Geoff Petrie) and has said that he believes the coaching grind is for younger men.

For everyone’s sake, it is better for him to break new ground with his motivational methods — like the time last season when he summoned Spoelstra to his office after the slumping Heat lost to Chicago. That set off an alarm for Spoelstra because their postgame conversations usually took place in the team’s family room.

“I walked in there, and there was a bottle of wine and two glasses,” Spoelstra said. “He said, ‘Come in here and share this with me.’ And the first 20 to 30 minutes, we just sipped the wine and didn’t say one word. That’s what I really needed at the time. He just has a feel.”

Given his nine years with Riley, Wade said he has heard all the stories — “a few of them two or three times.” His favorites are those from Los Angeles, about how a team blessed with Hall of Fame talents — not unlike the Heat — galvanized for greatness.

“He always lets us know that Magic made it work as the leader of that team,” Wade said. “I think at the time, he thought he made it work. I think it shows Coach’s growth.”

They still address him as “Coach,” Spoelstra, Wade and Udonis Haslem, the other holdover from the 2006 title team.

“You always feel his presence,” Haslem said. “Coach Spo has tweaked the strategy, put his stamp on it, but make no mistake about it: the majority of our system, especially defensively, all comes from Coach Riley.”

Riley wields the power in Miami that the Knicks wouldn’t grant him, leading to his much-decried resignation-by-fax in 1995. Tabloid New York called him Pat the Rat and delighted in the Heat’s losing three of four playoff showdowns with the Knicks from 1997 to 2000.

But the Knicks haven’t won a playoff game since 2001, while Riley as a player, coach and executive has been involved in some kind of college or pro championship game or series in every decade since the ’60s.

When he made his recruiting pitch to James in the summer of 2010 — competing against the Knicks, among others — Riley brought his championship rings in a cloth bag and dropped them on the table. After that, as the legend goes, he didn’t really have to say much of anything.

Carmelo Anthony, Playing His Style, Delivers as Expected

This was more than just a celebration. It was delayed gratification, a 19,000-person exhale, a primal scream of relief. This was more than just (as critical as it was).

This was the Carmelo Anthony whom fans expected when the tore up their roster 14 months ago. This was the payoff that James L. Dolan, the Garden chairman, surely envisioned when he sacrificed four rotation players, three draft picks and $6 million in that trade with the Denver Nuggets.

This was the moment that Anthony himself needed, after a fitful season of injuries, sulking and underachieving. Four Sundays earlier, Anthony was booed for another lackluster showing. Now he was bathed in adoration.

“A great atmosphere,” Anthony said after hitting the two biggest shots of the afternoon — a 3-pointer that forced overtime and another that won the game.

No one ever doubted that Anthony was capable of big scoring totals and big-game heroics. His Nuggets tenure was filled with them. He has consistently ranked among the league’s top clutch performers.

But that Carmelo Anthony was missing this season as he chafed against various forces: a coach he didn’t respect, an offense he didn’t embrace, a surrounding cast that seemed to put a crimp in his swagger. Ankle, wrist, thumb and groin injuries did not help, either.

Over his first 39 games, Anthony averaged 20 points and shot 39.9 percent from the field, career lows. , Anthony has averaged 29.9 points while hitting 49 percent of his shots, looking worthy once more of his superstar reputation.

What changed? Just about everything.

Anthony is finally healthy, which is evident in his lift and his shooting stroke. He is clearly happier with Mike Woodson as his coach than he was playing for Mike D’Antoni. By his own admission, Anthony is working harder, especially on defense, since the coaching change March 14. His entire demeanor has transformed over the last four weeks.

Woodson has rewritten the playbook in Anthony’s favor, with more isolation and post-up chances, and greater license to operate one on one — a style that D’Antoni disdained. But Anthony’s renaissance was born of necessity as much as design.

Amar’e Stoudemire is out because of a back injury. Jeremy Lin has been lost to knee surgery. Anthony’s resurgence began the moment that those two — the Knicks’ second- and third-leading scorers — bowed out two weeks ago. This is not coincidental, and it is more than a star player simply picking up the slack.

Anthony is benefiting from more touches and more shots — an average of 21.6 per game since Lin and Stoudemire were lost, an increase of 4.2 per game. But he is also benefiting by a move to power forward (Stoudemire’s spot), where he can beat opponents with his quickness and perimeter game.

“They’re going to play the game through Carmelo,” Orlando Coach Stan Van Gundy said last week. “They’re not trying to split up touches and keep other people happy and everything else.”

The results should not be surprising. Anthony has historically been at his best as a solo act, as the undisputed focal point of his team, as the primary shooter, scorer and ball-handler — the role he has now. He is annually among the league leaders in usage rate, which measures the percentage of team possessions used by a player. Anthony averages 31.2 percent for his career.

Without Stoudemire and Lin, Anthony no longer has to defer, wait for the ball or force himself to be a facilitator, a role he rejected earlier this season.

Anthony and Stoudemire have been an awkward fit since the moment that Anthony arrived in February 2011, each playing better when the other is on the bench. The Lin-Anthony partnership has also been fraught.

The Knicks’ last losing streak coincided with Anthony returning to the lineup, after the Knicks had established a new identity formed around Lin’s ball-handling and passing.

As Anthony said on March 6, after a : “I think any time you go from the early part of the season, just having the ball and me just having the ball and being the distributor, and now just running the wings and waiting for the ball to come to me, that’s quite an adjustment for myself.”

That adjustment is no longer necessary. When Lin went down, most of D’Antoni’s spread-the-floor, pick-and-roll offense went with him. Anthony does not have to stand and wait for open shots now — he creates them himself.

For now, it is all working brilliantly. Anthony is happy, productive and thriving. The Knicks have won five of their last seven games — including upsets of Orlando and Chicago — without two key starters.

But at some point, Stoudemire will return. At some point, the Knicks will need Anthony to be more than just a single-minded scorer. Playoff series are rarely won by solo acts, as Anthony’s former team can attest.

The boos are a fading memory. The adoring cheers will last only as long as the wins do.

Bulls Storm Past Celtics, Knicks Trump Magic

Luol Deng scored 18 of his season-high 26 points in the second half as the Bulls, playing without Derrick Rose for the 12th consecutive game, outscored the visiting Celtics 55-37 after halftime.

“We needed this one,” Deng told reporters after the Bulls won for the first time in three games “We haven’t been playing well and we just played hard.”

He had 12 points in the fourth quarter.

“(Deng) made a lot of big plays, very good defense,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We needed the scoring. That’s what he provided. He had a tough matchup with (Paul) Pierce.”

Pierce led the Celtics with 22 points and Kevin Garnett had 12 points and 14 rebounds.

Boston led 49-38 at halftime but collected a lowly 17 points in the third as Chicago stormed ahead.

The outcome convinced Boston coach Doc Rivers that the Eastern Conference remains a two-team race.

“It’s still Miami and Chicago,” said Rivers, whose team leads the Atlantic Division. “We believe we can beat anybody. But Chicago had the best record in the East last year and Miami won the East last year. So until someone says something different, it has to be those two teams.”

Elsewhere, the New York Knicks beat the beleaguered Orlando Magic 96-80 and the Los Angeles Clippers stopped the Sacramento Kings 93-85.

New York’s Carmelo Anthony scored 19 points while a subdued Dwight Howard could manage just eight for the Magic.

Orlando’s defeat came hours after coach Stan Van Gundy had told reporters he had been informed top player Howard wanted him fired. Howard later denied seeking his coach’s dismissal.

Jason Richardson had 16 points and Glen Davis 15 for Orlando, who lost their fifth consecutive game.

Randy Foye had 20 points, Blake Griffin added 14 and Chris Paul had 13 points and eight assists as the Clippers moved to within two games of the Pacific Division-leading Los Angeles Lakers.

(Reporting by Gene Cherry in Salvo, North Carolina; Editing by John O’Brien)