Al Iannazzone Newsday Knicks beat writer Al Iannazzone.

Al Iannazzone joined Newsday in January 2012 as the Knicks’ beat writer, after covering the NBA for 11 years for The Record. Al covered the Knicks and Nets in that time, and also reported on the U.S. Open tennis tournament and other major sporting events. Al appeared regularly on the YES Network’s Nets pregame show from 2005-2011.

Follow him on Twitter @Al_Iannazzone.
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Lawrence Frank was in Mike Woodson's shoes about eight years ago. He could have been in them last night and coached the Knicks against the Pistons instead of the other way around.

If Frank hadn't been named the Pistons' coach last summer, he likely would have been hired as Mike D'Antoni's lead assistant. The position eventually went to Woodson. After D'Antoni resigned, Woodson replaced him, and the Knicks have been a different team. They won Woodson's first five games after dropping their last six under D'Antoni.

Eight years ago, Frank replaced Byron Scott on the Nets' bench. They were 22-20 at the time and then took off under Frank. The Nets won 13 consecutive games, giving Frank the pro sports record for most wins to start a coaching career.

It's common for teams to play better and harder after a coaching switch, for a variety of reasons. The one most often offered is that the team laid down on the previous coach. That talk bothers Frank.

"When a coach loses a job, everyone shares in that responsibility," Frank said. "A huge alarm goes off where everyone should realize they were a part of the problem. It forces everyone to look in the mirror and ask, 'What can I do differently to play at a higher level and help the team play at a higher level?'

"A good man lost his job. Many times, way too much is made of they're not listening or they quit on a coach. With the change, they are playing at a very high level. Who's to say they wouldn't have done that under Mike D'Antoni?"

The way the Knicks were going, it probably wouldn't have happened.

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There was tension in the locker room and on the court. It wasn't just between D'Antoni and Carmelo Anthony. Knicks players were upset that Anthony wasn't adapting to playing within D'Antoni's system and adjusting to Jeremy Lin running the pick-and-roll offense.

Anthony and D'Antoni weren't on the same page, and both men were too stubborn for their own good. When the coach and the star player butt heads, the star usually wins out, and that was the case here. Anthony has played differently lately, and as a result, the Knicks are playing differently.

76ers coach Doug Collins, who coached Michael Jordan in Chicago and Washington, sidestepped a question about why teams and players often have a quick burst of success when there's a change. But Collins' answer was telling.

"You'd have to talk about the psyche of the athlete," he said with a huge smile on his face.

Collins played on a team that went on a major run more than 30 years ago immediately after its coach was fired.

Gene Shue guided the 76ers to the 1977 NBA Finals and was let go the next season after a 2-4 start. Billy Cunningham took over and the Sixers won 14 of 15 games, including 10 straight.

"It goes back a long time. This is nothing new," Collins said. "I'm sad. I feel for Mike [D'Antoni] right now because when you leave and your team all of a sudden starts doing what they're doing, we as coaches view ourselves, 'Well, we must've been the problem. Look at the way they're playing.' "

D'Antoni is smart, and he's been around the NBA long enough to know it wasn't all him. Frank is right: Many people share in the responsibilities for a team's failings.

Anthony's improving defense

Anthony made some statement in Toronto on Friday when he said, "My defense is ahead of my offense right now." He has been struggling with his shot, but he's passing the ball more and playing with more effort defensively.

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In the Toronto game, Anthony hustled back on defense a few times. Earlier in the season, he jogged, especially two weeks ago against the Bulls in Chicago, which ended up being D'Antoni's last game.

As much as Anthony said he supported D'Antoni, he's clearly raised his level of play since he left.

"He's playing much harder on the defensive end," a rival NBA official said. "There is a noticeable increase in energy and activity from Anthony."

Anthony admitted as much. "I'm coming out with a different mentality, trying to give the team something different other than scoring," he said. "The guys have responded to that pretty well.

"The past five games, I wanted to take it upon myself and do something different."

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Why not do it sooner?

Job openings

Some head-coaching jobs and executive positions will become available within the next six weeks. D'Antoni and former Knicks president Donnie Walsh likely will emerge as candidates for some of them. Walsh is a consultant for the Knicks this season, but if his health allows, he's expected to return to running a team. D'Antoni could be linked to the Clippers as well as the Wizards and Bucks if those jobs become available.

Karl thinks Melo, Woodson will work

George Karl coached Anthony for roughly seven seasons in Denver and had Woodson on his staff in Milwaukee. Karl said he thinks Woodson and Anthony could be a good fit.

"I definitely think the possibility of that working is very good," Karl said. "I think Mike will be demanding but also understanding -- I think respectful of what a great player Melo is.

"Mike was a pretty good offensive player himself. I think he's going to understand there are going to be nights where shots don't go in and sometimes you're going to have to force situations, but in return, you're going to get a lot of great games where he wins games for you."