Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept.
INDIANAPOLIS - Frank Vogel first appeared on national TV at age 13, doing a "stupid human trick" for David Letterman in which he spun a basketball on the bottom end of a toothbrush.
Oh, and he was brushing his teeth with the bristle end at the same time.
Vogel has come a long way since 1986, now as coach of the Pacers and owner of a 2-1 lead over the Knicks in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
But he's still into trickery, and so far has outwitted the Knicks despite an offensively challenged team that would have won Game 3 by 30 rather than 11 if only it could shoot.
Enter Mike Woodson, Vogel's counterpart and another guy who needed coaching smarts to overcome injuries and limitations all season to get this far.
In what has become an intriguing series for Xs and Os hoops geeks, it now is the Knicks coach's turn to try to solve his way out of trouble before it is too late.
And he had better do it before the locker room frays, because that is a distinct possibility. Tyson Chandler has spent the past two days criticizing teammates for too much one-on-one offense and not enough rebounding.
Chandler did not name names, but many will interpret his remarks Sunday about failing to share the ball and trying to do too much -- but not "maliciously," heaven forbid -- as being directed at Carmelo Anthony and/or J.R. Smith.
Of course, teammates could fairly point out that Chandler has been the series' second-best starting center, by a wide margin behind Roy Hibbert.
This could get ugly fast, with Game 4 looming Tuesday and the Pacers having been by far the better team if you subtract the final 1 1/2 quarters of Game 2.
Woodson addressed all of this Sunday during a 12-minute session with reporters that mined every crevice of the game plan. He politely fielded every strategic question -- or were they suggestions? -- from using Anthony more on pick-and-roll plays to turning to Steve Novak, Chris Copeland or (gasp) Marcus Camby.
Complicating matters is an ongoing Smith illness that kept him out of practice Sunday; he was joined in sick bay by Kenyon Martin. "At this stage of the game, most playoff teams are pretty set; we're kind of jumping around a little bit right now," Woodson said. "But we'll figure it out."
There were two troubling aspects of the postmortems after Game 3 as they relate to the coach. One was that players and Woodson agreed the Knicks had failed to execute the game plan, from trapping Hibbert to pushing the pace on offense.
"I have got to keep screaming and pushing and guys got to recognize that we got to get the ball moving from side to side," Woodson said. "That's the only way we can play and perhaps get out of this series."
Whose fault is the persistent execution problems, the coach or the players? "It's both," Woodson said.
Worse than that was that after both Games 1 and 3, Woodson and players acknowledged the Knicks were outworked. That can't be excused in the mid-May NBA. "They won the hustle today," Anthony said after Game 3. (He did not speak to reporters Sunday.)
Said Woodson: "They wanted it a little more. That was the difference."
That's a problem -- the coach's problem.
"I wouldn't want to go back home down 3-1, so Tuesday's a pivotal game for us," Woodson said. "I have to get these guys pumped up and ready to play."
Right now, brushing your teeth while spinning a basketball seems easy in comparison.