By John Schmeelk
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All year we’ve detailed the myriad of mistakes Mike Woodson has made coaching this basketball team. A quick reminder: not playing two point guards, not playing Carmelo Anthony at the four, holding different players to different standards, playing too many defensive-deficient players at the same time.
There’s more: bad lineups, stapling Pablo Prigioni to the bench, switching too many screens on defense and playing certain players major minutes despite the fact that they are not helping the team.
Well, you can add another item to that list: late-game management.
On Monday night, Woodson tried very hard not to prepare his team to execute in the final 30 seconds of a basketball game properly. After a Beno Udrih missed free throw left the Knicks’ lead at one, the Wizards called a timeout to set up an offensive play (a lesson Woodson did not take heed of 25 seconds later). During that timeout, Woodson should have been doing two things. The first thing should have been to prepare his team for the most important defensive possession of the game.
With John Wall and Bradley Beal, two very talented players that had killed the Knicks all night, still in the game, Woodson needed to make sure his team was matched up with them. Yet somehow, Udrih wound up on Beal, who promptly beat him to the rim for a layup, where there was no defensive help. Udrih needed to give a foul once Beal got the step (apparently Woodson did communicate that strategy) but he failed to do so. That misses, however, the most egregious mistake the coach made: not taking Udrih out of the game.
Udrih is by far the Knicks’ worst defensive guard (and that’s saying something with Ray Felton on the roster) with slow feet, little strength and no length to contest shots. Guarding Beal presents an obvious mismatch even the least observant coach would have recognized and attacked. He needed to be taken out of the game for Metta World Peace (or even Tim Hardaway Jr!), and Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith should have been put onto Beal and Wall. There was a timeout after Udrih’s free throw to make the substitution, but I guess Woodson never even thought about it.
The second thing Woodson had to do in the huddle was communicate what the Knicks should do offensively if the Wizards scored. Apparently, this wasn’t spoken about for even a second. It was as if the team assumed that their nearly league-worst defense would get a stop. Players actually said as much after the game. Woodson needed to tell his players whether they should push the ball to try to get a quick shot off by trying to catch the Wizards off guard, or take a timeout. Once he didn’t set up a quick strike-play, the only possible decision to make was to call a timeout off of Beal’s layup and then set up a play.
Instead, the Knicks looked confused after the made shot. After a delayed inbounds, Anthony proceeded to slowly walk the ball up the court and hoist up an awful, leaning 28 foot three-point shot at the buzzer. Woodson rightly took the blame in his postgame press conference, but at that point it was too late. The damage was already done, and the Knicks had another loss in a season in which they can’t afford to lose many more if they still want to try to win the Atlantic Division. These were inexcusable mistakes that even a rookie coach like Jason Kidd wouldn’t have made. Maybe Woodson needs to take a Lawrence Frank role and just start writing practice and game reports.
In the “when it rains, it pours” department, the Knicks have now lost their only competent guard for the rest of 2013. Prigioni was the one player who could save Woodson’s stagnant offense and dumb defensive strategies from themselves. He fought over picks on defenses and rarely switched unless absolutely necessary. He made sure the ball moved on offense and actually got his teammates involved in the pick-and-roll. The offense had flow with him directing it! With Felton out, this Prigioni injury will hurt the Knicks more than the average fan realizes. Woodson’s flaws will be even more obvious, and Tyson Chandler’s imminent return won’t help most of those issues either.
Woodson moved a step closer to losing his job on Monday, committing coaching blunders that even the Knicks’ often oblivious owner could see as plain as day. He has now lost another point guard who helped Woodson get his team to play the right way. Every time Woodson gets a couple of steps out of the hole he has dug for himself, he slides another three feet in. Maybe Chandler can save day, but unless he shows up wearing a blue suit with a red S on his chest, I don’t see it happening.
– At least the Knicks will finally get to see what Toure Murry can do. He should at least be able to help defensively. If I see Chris Smith anywhere near Madison Square Garden I’m going to scream.
– This injury might prompt the Knicks to complete a trade for a point guard, and give up that extra asset for Kyle Lowry. I’ll live with dealing Shumpert, but not Hardaway Jr. or a 2018 first-rounder. Stop the madness of dealing away picks.
You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for the latest on the Knicks, Giants and everything else New York sports.
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