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Interim coach Mike Miller able to push Knicks players hard

Knicks interim head coach Mike Miller during a

Knicks interim head coach Mike Miller during a game against the Detroit Pistons at Madison Square Garden on March 8, 2020. Credit: Jim McIsaac

After a horrific performance against the Thunder at Madison Square Garden on Friday night, one that included the Knicks falling behind by as many as 34 points and ended with the game operations staff upping the music volume to earsplitting levels to drown out the chants of “sell the team,” the Knicks went back to work on Saturday.

Running out the string on another lottery-bound season might not seem the place for an interim coach to push a team already thinking about summer vacation, but Mike Miller put the Knicks through what some players called their hardest, most physical practice of the season.

That the Knicks won Sunday might have had more to do with the opponent, a Pistons team that is unrecognizable from the roster that started the season, than any strategy. But it still was promising that Miller, with only the status of an interim coach, was able to push without pushback.

“He’s for the most part very positive,” Elfrid Payton said. “When he needs to get on us, he gets on us, though. [Saturday] was one of those days. We felt where he was coming from. We didn’t give our best effort as a team.”

“They laid the first hit and our team didn’t respond,” Bobby Portis added. “We got back in the gym [Saturday] and had one of our best practices of the year, and I think it carried over.”

As Kenny Atkinson — along with plenty of other coaches — can attest, sending a veteran team to a hard workday late in the season, particularly for a team that is going nowhere, is a risky endeavor.

Miller has no clout with the players, who are well aware that Steve Stoute — who was brought in to help with the rebranding of the Knicks and was seated courtside with Madison Square Garden executive chairman James Dolan on Friday — already has announced on ESPN that a new staff will be the next step for the team.

To change the narrative, the Knicks likely will pursue a coach with an established resumé. Tom Thibodeau has been floated as a former coach with a long relationship with new team president Leon Rose, as well as Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson.

But with the Knicks expected to endure another rebuilding season, some in the organization have speculated that Miller actually could return next season. He took over when David Fizdale was dismissed with the Knicks at 4-18 and, while he hasn’t exactly turned the team around, he has stabilized it, carrying a 16-26 record into Tuesday’s game in Washington.

“I think he’s definitely given himself a chance,” Payton said. “I wish the best for him because he really loves this game. He has good knowledge of this game. Even if it’s not here, I know he’s going to be successful.”

“I think it all centers around the same things,” Miller said. “I think it’s, are you helping the players get better? Are you seeing the team grow and all those kinds of things? You look around this league, I think you see most, all of the guys are doing that. Every situation is different.

“Throughout 82 games it changes; you have a lot of changes to deal with it going through it. But I think that’s the center point for everybody. You just continue trying to help the guys individually and how that comes together collectively.”

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