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Young Knicks struggling with defensive concepts

Knicks head coach David Fizdale reacts during the

Knicks head coach David Fizdale reacts during the first quarter against the Pacers at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 11, 2019. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — While the Knicks were falling apart at Madison Square Garden on Friday night, with defensive lapses turning a tight game into another in a long line of one-sided losses, coach David Fizdale was trying to implore his team to do the things the young and undermanned team has struggled to do.

The result was a 121-106 loss, the 11th in the last 12 games and 16th in the last 18 games for the Knicks (10-32). But in the stands, Fizdale had a supporter, someone who was happy to see him work his way through the harsh days. His high school coach, Sam Sullivan, who also is his cousin, was on hand for the loss and then back in the gym for practice Saturday.

“He’s proud,” Fizdale said. “Think about it, he’s been with me my whole life. He’s watched me come through this thing my whole life. To be able to share it with him and be in Madison Square Garden, watch me walk the sidelines, if we went 0-82, he would be glowing still.”

He may be proud of Fizdale regardless of whether he's 10-32 or 0-82, but from the sound of it, Sullivan — who retired from Fremont High School in California in 2016 after 39 years — might have taken a harder tone with the Knicks than Fizdale has done.

“Oh, I wish I could say what he used to say to me to these guys,” Fizdale said. “I think I’d get fired and a lawsuit. But he got away with it because he was my blood and my mom was rooting him on to yell at me.”

If Sullivan has any ideas on how to get the Knicks' rotating cast of kids to defend, Fizdale likely is open to suggestions. They rank 29th in the NBA in defensive rating and allow a 27th-worst 116 points per game. On Friday, they saw a tie turn into a 12-point halftime deficit in little more than two minutes.

“We struggle with the concepts right now,” Fizdale said. “We really do. And the biggest one is the weak side of our defense and understanding how to scramble out of coverage. Which is typical. In my conversations with other coaches that have coached similar-type teams, that was always their biggest issue was ball movement, getting them to share the ball and getting them to understand how to defend on the weak side.”

Fizdale said it has gotten worse not because of a lack of effort but because teams have changed the way they attack as the season has worn on.

“Because teams were doing less complicated stuff,” he said. “Teams, when you put your baseline stuff in, it’s much more standard. As the year goes, you add the more dynamic actions and things like that. And so as we started to move through the year, we started to see more and more packages of plays and different things that teams are doing. Cute stuff that they do to confuse you. As that’s gone on and new situations that come up, it was like, ‘Oh, man, I just figured this one out. Now I gotta guard these two things that Golden State threw at me that I’ve never seen before.’

"That’s why I’ve said, a lap around the league is usually a big help to a lot of young players just because they get to see all of the different crap by the end of the year that’s going to be thrown at them. And so by the time the next year rolls around, they’re not caught off guard by it.”

Notes & quotes: Enes Kanter missed practice with flu-like symptoms and is doubtful for Sunday’s game against the 76ers. Frank Ntilikina (sprained left ankle) worked out and is questionable. Tim Hardaway Jr. (left hamstring) and Damyean Dotson (left calf) are probable. Mitchell Robinson (groin) is out.


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