Mike D'Antoni returns to Madison Square Garden Thursday night with his Lakers in similar straits as the Knicks at the time of his departure. But their fate changed quickly and dramatically after D'Antoni left.
Mike Woodson challenged Carmelo Anthony and has him doing many things D'Antoni couldn't get him to do. Anthony is defending, hustling, leading and deferring to his teammates when they have better shots. But Woodson also is letting Anthony be the prolific scorer he always has been -- and the Knicks are better for it.
They're an Eastern Conference-best 16-5, 34-11 since Woodson took over March 14 and 19-1 at home in the regular season. And Anthony is hearing "M-V-P" chants more regularly. They could be loud Thursday night with D'Antoni back and Anthony coming off a 45-point game in Tuesday's win over the Nets.
"He's had some pretty big games under my tutelage," Woodson said. "I can't speak for years past. I've got to speak for the time that he's been with me. He's done everything that's asked of him. I think sometimes he's misread because this young man wants to win in the worst way and he's playing just like that."
It started after Woodson jumped from assistant to head coach. He told the players he would hold everyone accountable, and singled out Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Amar'e Stoudemire, saying they weren't playing hard enough.
"I thought they bought in right away, especially Melo," Woodson said on ESPN New York radio Wednesday. "He just went to another level.
"We were in a tough position based on guys not playing hard. We were stressing it while I was an assistant coach. I just made it more known when I took over as the head coach. I singled guys out. I think as the head coach I have the right to do that. I think they got the message loud and clear."
Anthony played a big part in last year's struggles. He was affected by the negativity directed at him when Jeremy Lin became the Knicks' savior while Anthony was injured. The fear was he would come back and kill Lin-sanity.
In the end, D'Antoni wanted to continue playing his pick-and-roll system with Lin running it and clashed with Anthony. They probably needed to work together to find a way to make everyone happy.
"I think a lot of the personnel didn't fit his style. And I don't know if that fits his style in L.A., to be honest with you," Chandler said. "I thought he was a good guy and I thought he was a good coach as well."
The fact the Lakers are experiencing similar struggles doesn't reflect well on D'Antoni. The Knicks lost their last six under him. The Lakers have dropped five of their last six and D'Antoni is having trouble fitting Pau Gasol into his offense.
The Lakers hired D'Antoni Nov. 12, and he needs more time. He's awaiting the return of injured Steve Nash, who excelled in this offense in Phoenix. But the Lakers still have Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard, which should be enough to win games.
"You definitely can't judge them but I could honestly care less what's going on over there," Chandler said. "That's the whole other side of the coast."
Over here, the Knicks have become the biggest sports story in New York. They look like a legitimate title contender and Anthony, the player D'Antoni butted heads with, has become an early MVP candidate. Woodson and Chandler have endorsed him repeatedly.
"We're not even through December yet," Anthony said. "It's still early for us. It's still early for me. We're still getting better as a team. We're still learning how to win basketball games, how to win tough games. At the end of the season, if that's it then we'll see."