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Three Things to Know: After back-to-back Knicks blowout losses, David Fizdale job watch on

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) After back-to-back Knicks blowout losses, David Fizdale job watch is on. Eight losses in a row. The last two were by 44 points at Milwaukee then by 37 points Thursday night to Denver — games where the Knicks didn’t show much fight (except for Marcus Morris, who literally seems to be looking for a fight every game). Things are bad with the 4-18 Knicks. Historically bad.

That has ramped up the “David Fizdale Job Watch” around Madison Square Garden (and all over NBA Twitter). The Knicks have the worst offense in the NBA this season, a bottom-10 defense, and their energy level appears to be dropping with each game. Even Fizdale called the team’s effort “sickening” after Thursday’s loss.

The coach’s firing now feels inevitable, with the only question being when — and the rumor is soon. It was clear when team president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry were forced to talk to the media a dozen games ago — after an ugly 21-point home loss to the Cavaliers — that Fizdale was going to be the scapegoat for a full organization that deserves blame. Mills said at the time he wanted to see “consistent effort” from the Knicks, that hasn’t happened of late.

These last two losses — where the Knicks were increasingly listless — seemed to turn up the flame and now everyone is waiting for that pot to boil over. (The reports on Twitter that the Mills, Perry, and owner James Dolan were not in their seats at the end of the game were not completely accurate, Mills was until the final minute. The three were talking after the game, but that is not unusual.)

Mid-season coaching changes rarely jumpstart teams — there is precious little practice time in the NBA, and it’s nearly impossible for a new coach to make systemic changes. The rotation can be tweaked, players can be put in better/different positions, but any spark tends to be short-lived.

There are really only a couple of reasons that a mid-season coaching change makes sense. One is that the coach management really wants is out there and the franchise needs to move before another team snaps him up (think Sacramento forcing out 11-13 Mike Malone so they could eventually get George Karl, who went 11-21 that season). When (it’s not really an “if” anymore) Fizdale is let go, one the coaches currently in the organization is expected to get the job — Mike Miller, Pat Sullivan, Jud Buechler, Keith Smart, Kaleb Canales — and they do not fit the “he’s our guy” criteria.

The other reason to fire mid-season is that the situation in the locker room and around the team is so bad, so toxic, that it could poison the team into future seasons. That is a case that can be made.

Still, we all know the real problem in New York goes higher up the ladder. This was never a playoff roster, but the organization seemed to sell itself — and sold ownership — that it was, which has led to disappointment. There is some young talent on the roster — rookie RJ Barrett shows flashes, Mitchell Robinson has potential — but sticking with one coach, one system, and being patient through a rebuild has never worked for Dolan and New York. It always seems to be the search for the next free agent, the next quick fix, and because of that instability free agents are leery of coming to Manhattan (a couple of them found that stability in Brooklyn last summer).

James Dolan has owned the team for two decades now, he took over near the end of the Jeff Van Gundy era. This season will mark the seventh straight the team has missed the playoffs, and they will have been out of the top eight in 13 of the last 16 seasons. Dolan has been the one constant through all the GMs and coaches in that era.

There are rumors Dolan wants to lure Masai Ujiri out of Toronto. We’ll see. What smart front office people will want in New York is total control — not just of the basketball decisions but of the personnel throughout the Knicks front office. Sources have told me others who spoke to the Knicks for the top executive job previously wanted to clean house throughout the basketball staff (to bring in their guys and force out the entrenched people) and that has met with resistance.

Just don’t expect Dolan to sell the team. That’s not happening. The best Knicks fans can hope for is that he brings in a smart head of basketball operations, gives that person total control, then gets out of the way. For years and years, allowing for the ups and downs of a rebuild. But if we haven’t seen that after two decades…

2) James Harden scores “just” 23, Russell Westbrook has triple-double, Rockets pick up a quality win over Raptors. Houston is not going to protest this one.

Toronto coach Nick Nurse had a game plan — trap James Harden, do it 40-feet from the basket sometimes, but do not let that man beat you. Force someone else to make shots, even if they are open threes. Part of that plan worked, Harden had just three shots in the first half and finished well below his season scoring average with just 23 points on the night.

Toronto’s problem was the other guys did step up. Ben McLemore, P.J. Tucker, and Danuel House Jr. shot 10-of-19 from three in the first half and had 41 points combined before halftime. For the game, Russell Westbrook had a 19-point triple-double, while McLemore led the team with 28 points on 18 shots.

Toronto’s other problem is that Houston played better defense and Pascal Siakam went scoreless in the fourth quarter (he did have a team-high 24 for the night). When their star struggled, the rest of the Raptors went cold, shooting 6-of-17 in the fourth with six turnovers. That’s not going to get it done against anyone.

3) Rookie Rui Hachimura is playing fairly well in Washington, scores 27 to lead Wizards past Sixers. In what has been a surprisingly down rookie class, Washington is starting to get something out of Rui Hachimura.

In his last four games, the Japanese national — and there is a media contingent from Japan following him around — is averaging 22 points a game. Against Philadelphia on Thursday he may have had his best game as a pro, scoring 27 points on 18 shots, with seven rebounds, and two steals. He led the Wizards to an upset win against the 76ers, 119-113 (Philly continues to struggle on the road)

The long-term concern with Hachimura is that he’s a mid-range shooter — he took six of his 18 shots from there on Thursday (making four), and for the season more than 30 percent of his shots have come between 10 feet out and the arc. Hachimura can get those shots at will and is hitting them at a good clip, but it’s not what teams are looking for on a consistent basis (unless DeMar DeRozan is your idealized player). Midrange shots are a good weapon for a scorer to have, but teams want that as more of a fallback. His 22 percent three-point shooting needs to improve to become a real scoring threat in the future.

However, in a rookie class where the biggest star has yet to step on the court, and other guys are struggling, Hachimura is starting to stand out as a good pick by Washington.

Rumor: Indiana coach Nate McMillan is on hot seat

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Last season, Indiana’s Nate McMillan finished fourth in Coach of the Year voting, taking a team that lost star Victor Oladipo after just 36 games and still got them into the playoffs. McMillan is going to get COY votes again this year for much the same reason — his teams play good defense and overachieve.

Indiana coach Nate McMillan is also on the hot seat.

It’s surprising, and it’s just a rumor, but ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy and Zach Lowe had this conversation on a recent episode of The Lowe Post podcast (hat tip PacersTalk.net).

Van Gundy: “I had two people come up to me since I’ve been here [in the NBA restart bubble] and say, ‘Nate McMillan’s in trouble.’”

Lowe: “It’s been the hottest rumor all season… What you’ve heard in Orlando’s been going around all season…

“Let me be clear: It’s just a rumor. I don’t know if it’s true. When you talk to people around the Pacers, they say, ‘It’s not true’ or ‘Where you’d hear that from?’”

Maybe management wants a more modern offense, the Pacers are bottom eight in both three pointers attempted and pace. Overall, Indiana’s offense is middle of the pack (18th in the league), which is not bad considering it was without Oladipo for most of the season (and he was playing his way into shape when he returned and was not at an All-NBA level).

It’s hard to imagine that the Pacers would make a change this offseason, which will be short and give a new coach less time to ramp up a program. Plus, does owner Herb Simon want to pay two coaches? The finances of the league are helping other coaches keep their jobs.

More than all that, McMillan doesn’t deserve to be fired.

Not that “deserved” has had much to do with NBA coaches keeping their jobs in the past.

 

Report: NBA players bypassing ‘snitch’ hotline to call Adam Silver directly

NBA commissioner Adam Silver
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No NBA players have been diagnosed with coronavirus in the bubble. And they want to keep it that way. A championship and a lot of money are on the line.

That means preventing players from having close contact with anyone outside the bubble. And, in case someone contracts coronavirus, wearing masks (intact masks) to prevent a wider outbreak.

The NBA set up a hotline – quickly dubbed the “snitch” hotline – for players to report violations.

Chris Haynes of TNT:

Players have been circumventing that process. Sources informed me that multiple players are personally calling commissioner Adam Silver to issue their complaints with things they’re seeing in the bubble.

Adam Silver is accessible to players – particularly the president of the union.

I’m not sure about tattling straight to the top boss when there are other protocols in place. Are hotline calls not resulting in changed behavior?

Either way, it’s important for the NBA to keep players safe – both for their health and the league’s revenue (about half of which goes to players in salary). So, cut Chris Paul anyone calling Silver a break. They’re at least trying to help. And so far, violations inside the bubble have led to reminders, not harsher discipline.

Zion Williamson sitting out Pelicans-Wizards (rest)

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The Pelicans have been one of the NBA’s most disappointing teams in the bubble. New Orleans has gone 1-3 at Disney World and fallen to 13th in the Western Conference.

Still (barely) hanging in the race to make the play-in, the Pelicans must face the Wizards without Zion Williamson.

Pelicans:

The Pelicans are treating Williamson carefully – and they should. He’s their 20-year-old franchise player with major health concerns.

But New Orleans still has its highest ceiling now with Williamson on the floor. He’s an offensive force. His interior scoring and gravity create efficient looks for himself and teammates.

Williamson has been woeful defensively, and the Pelicans have bigs – Derrick Favors and Jaxson Hayes – to take Williamson’s minutes. New Orleans can go small, too.

The Pelicans should still beat Washington, even without Williamson. Ideally, this will have Williamson ready for a closing stretch against the Spurs, Kings and Magic without sacrificing today’s game.

Yet, this is really just proof New Orleans isn’t as ready to launch as it appears during Williamson’s most exciting moments. His availability remains murky. His team has run hot and cold. I wouldn’t assume a win over the Wizards – though it’s a game the Pelicans need to preserve their fading playoff hopes.

Rumor: Next NBA season could begin in March

Wizards guard Bradley Beal and 76ers center Joel Embiid
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The NBA could reportedly delay the start of next season – currently planned for Dec. 1 – if fan attendance becomes foreseeable.

How long would the league wait?

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

one plan includes starting in March if the NBA feels they can get fans in the arena by then, as well as not lose personnel and viewership to the Summer Olympics.

I understand the temptation to delay. The coronavirus pandemic has made it more difficult for NBA teams to turn a profit.

But this plan would invite all sorts of complications:

  • What if there’s no vaccine, cure or comparable solution by March? Then, the league would have wasted months getting practically no revenue – rather than reduced revenue – without reaching a more favorable point. (However, maybe owners could also reduce costs with a lockout.)
  • Starting the season in March would radically alter the NBA’s calendar. Shifting back to an October – or even December – start date would mean even more upheaval, potentially for several years.
  • The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled for July and August 2021. The Olympics have been a powerful tool for the NBA and its players expanding their global reach.

These are unique and trying circumstances. Coronavirus is a massive and confounding variable. Everything should be on the table.

Do I predict next season will begin in March? No. But apparently the possibility is being considered, which is something.