The Knicks have stumbled into the All-Star break, both on the court and off it.
At the Garden on Wednesday night they followed a solid first- half performance with a sloppy second half in what became a 114-96 loss to the Wizards. The Knicks’ four-point halftime lead vanished as the Wizards shot 57% in the third quarter to go up by four and then Washington buried the foul-prone Knicks in a hail of free throws.
This chaos on the court only seemed appropriate amid the seeming dysfunction off it. The game was played against the backdrop of a suggested coaching change that might make the final 27 games for the club and interim head coach Mike Miller even more meaningless than they already might be.
The team has shown improvement under Miller after David Fizdale was let go with the Knicks 4-18. The defense has been better and there was a four-game winning streak that ended Sunday. But Miller may have no shot to earn the job.
Steve Stoute, the Knicks’ new branding consultant, said in an ESPN television appearance on Tuesday that the organization would be bringing in a new coach with an eye toward developing its young talent. The remarks left the organization backpedaling and it put out a statement that Stoute is in no way involved with personnel decisions.
Miller said before tip-off Wednesday night that he and Stoute had seen each other at a Knicks charity function Tuesday night and “had a private conversation.” He added that it was the first time they’d met.
Asked how he reacted to hearing that he isn’t likely to have a shot to earn the job in the final 27 games, Miller replied, “I found out about it from someone else after the fact and then didn’t really have a reaction to it. I’m, you know, locked in and doing what we do here, getting ready for Washington. My job right now is to get this team ready to play. My focus is on these players.”
While Miller continues to coach there has been a slew of speculation about who incoming president Leon Rose would consider for the head coaching position. The bevy of names has included former Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy, former Bulls and Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau and Kentucky coach John Calipari.
Van Gundy seemed to suggest during an interview Wednesday with SiriusXM NBA Radio that Miller get the chance to earn it.
“Mike Miller, to me, deserves every opportunity to finish this season out and win the job and I think anybody plotting as a coach to try to undermine that opportunity is doing it wrong,” Van Gundy said. “In a coaching situation we should all root for each other to be successful because only the people that have manned the head coaching position understand how hard it is to win any single NBA game. And particularly those teams that are stuck in the middle, it is brutal to win games. I find it unfortunate at times when people start circling, trying to get a job that isn’t even open. Mike Miller deserves all of our support. He’s done a fantastic job.”
Washington pulled away on Wednesday night with free throws — 13 in the fourth quarter, due in part to technical fouls on Bobby Portis and Elfrid Payton — and with 13 points as a result of eight Knicks turnovers. Miller said the Knicks poor second-half shooting — they made 39 percent from the floor — bled into their defense.
“We let one end effect the other,” Miller said. “We got some decent looks, we didn’t make them and we finally got to a point [where] we had some drops on the defensive side.”
Julius Randle had 21 points and 13 rebounds, Payton had 19 points and RJ Barrett had 16 points for the Knicks, whose 17-38 record is the third worst in the Eastern Conference.