GREENBURGH, N.Y. - With smoke still billowing off his red-hot shooting hand, Nate Robinson - back in the good graces of Mike D'Antoni's rotation - said no one should expect any changes in him or his game.
"I'm going to continue to be myself," Robinson said yesterday, a day after scoring 41 points against Atlanta in his first action since Dec. 1, thanks to a 14-game benching. "Play the way I play."
For one night, it resulted in an electrifying performance in a 112-108 overtime win over the Atlanta Hawks, but no one is more aware than D'Antoni that although Robinson may be out of the doghouse, he still needs to be kept on a leash.
"I hope that the intensity and level of concentration on defense stays the same," D'Antoni said. "If it does, then he becomes a real good player for us, and that's what we need."
Robinson's production off the bench - remember, he did average 17.2 points last season - could be a key component in a playoff push by the Knicks (13-20), who are in contention for the final two berths in the Eastern Conference with more than half the season remaining. Still, the Knicks came close to trading him - at his agent's request - to the Grizzlies in December.
According to a person with knowledge of the situation, the Knicks had talks with Memphis about acquiring guard Marcus Williams and a draft pick for Robinson. The deal fell through, however, when Robinson vetoed the trade, which is his right because he signed a one-year contract.
Robinson reiterated Saturday that his intention is to stay with the Knicks. "This is home for me," he said. "I don't know anything else."
D'Antoni just wants him to show a better respect for the game and the game plan. "I know before it was supposedly all personal. It's nothing personal," he said. "It's how can we make the playoffs, that's what this year is all about, and I'm going to try everything I can."
It's not that Robinson isn't aware of those characteristics of his game that routinely drive his coaches crazy. In a private conversation in September, he admitted the antics and histrionics are something he tries to control but often - especially when he's on a roll - can't.
"That's just me. That's just who I am," Robinson told Newsday. "I don't want to take away from anybody else on how they prepare for a game, but I'm not the serious, mean type before a game. My game face, nobody would know how I'm feeling. That's how I get my energy flowing before a game. Everybody's different. I could adjust it, but at the end of the day, I'm gonna be me.''
Actually, it sounded as if D'Antoni was the one being more agreeable to changing his ways. He said that when Robinson heats up, rather than trying to force him to conform to D'Antoni's game, he would be more open to calling clear-outs for him. Everyone saw that in overtime against the Hawks, when, as D'Antoni said, "they couldn't keep him in front of them."
Said D'Antoni, "If we find something that works, I'm not going to be hard-headed."
Still, there were reasons why Robinson was demoted from the rotation, which were coincidentally the same factors why he was back in. Larry Hughes had provided solid two-way play off the bench, but a mid-December groin injury has caused a noticeable decline in his production at both ends of the floor. Though Hughes says he's healthy, D'Antoni said the veteran will swap places with Robinson for now.