NBA AM: Knicks’ Woodson Talking Title, Already
Woodson Raising The Stakes For Knicks: If you’ve been following along this season then you know full well the New York Knicks’ 2012 campaign has been full of highs and lows, followed by equally distributed periods of even more joys and pains.
From early injuries to franchise players Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, to the rise of Jeremy Lin from relative obscurity, to the Anthony trade rumors, to head coach Mike D’Antoni resigning earlier this month, the Knicks have been an up and down franchise all season long.
However, as we enter the last month of the season, the club finds themselves on a four game win streak and clinging to a playoff berth while approaching an overall .500 record.
The energy the team has showed under interim head coach Mike Woodson cannot be denied.
Even the team’s biggest skeptics have to give the club credit; they’re an extremely resilient bunch of guys mentally.
It is this resiliency which has Woodson believing the Knicks aren’t just competing for one of the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spots, but in his mind the ultimate league supremacy – a title – this season.
“They have a legitimate shot to win the title,” Woodson confidently told Steve Serby of the New York Post. “When the playoffs come around, it’s open season. Who’s playing the hardest, the best … who believes that they can really get it done. Homecourt [advantage]and all that goes out the door. It’s great to have homecourt, but hey, we (2004 Detroit Pistons) didn’t have it in the Eastern Conference Final that year, and we ended up beating the [Indiana] Pacers. We didn’t have it in the Finals that year, and we beat the Lakers …and if these guys are honest with themselves, and hold each other accountable, their credibility is rolling high, man, anything can happen in a playoff series. Anything.”
Under Woodson the Knicks’ offense is averaging a whopping 111 points while limiting opponents to just 88.5 points per contest.
Woodson has been able to get the necessary buy-in offensively and defensively throughout the team’s roster that the departed D’Antoni searched so long and hard to secure – but to no avail.
The title contention talk may indeed be a bit premature since the Knicks’ own spot in the 2012 playoffs isn’t a lock in itself, leading the Milwaukee Bucks by only a half game for the last spot in the Eastern Conference.
“Be patient with us, stay behind us,” Woodson said. “Stay behind and be positive and help us push this thing through. Because it’s a total team effort, man. Yeah, you win a title, not for yourselves, but for me, it would be great to bring a title here to New York, man. I think if that ever happened, it would be the most unbelievable experience. ’Cause you got Manhattan, all the surrounding boroughs, that would just go bananas if you win one. That’s all I think about. I don’t think about anything else.”
Even if the Knicks outlast the Bucks for the final playoff spot, a likely matchup with the league leading Chicago Bulls, who boast reigning league MVP Derrick Rose, would await in the first round of the playoffs.
The Knicks have dropped both contests versus the Bulls this season, but have played them very tough losing both games by a combined margin of just eight points.
As a head coach, Woodson’s claim to fame has been serving as the architect of the Atlanta Hawks’ rise back into the ranks of perennial playoff participants.
Taking this Knicks team, after all the early season turmoil, would trump that feat – although extremely unlikely to come to fruition.
Jermaine O’Neal Denies Buyout Rumors: During a six season stretch from 2002 – 2007, Jermaine O’Neal was one of the best big men in the NBA notching six consecutive All-Star selections, a few All-NBA team distinctions and a Most Improved Player award while serving as the franchise leader for the Indiana Pacers.
Just five short years later, now at the age of 33, O’Neal’s NBA journey may be coming to an unexpected end after sixteen seasons.
O’Neal decided to undergo season ending wrist surgery which has started to fuel rumors that the veteran won’t attempt to put his body through a comeback after the procedure.
“If this is my last ride in the NBA – I’m not sure it is yet – it would be from a collection of things,” O’Neal told A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com in an exclusive interview. “It’s more about the quality of life, being able to operate as a father, being able to run around with my kids. When they need me, not necessarily being crippled.”
The original thought was the wrist injury could be managed through alternative methods without surgery until season’s end, but the condition of the wrist was in much worse shape than originally thought.
O’Neal will require one of the two procedures; surgery to remove bone spurs in the wrist or bone-fusion surgery.
Bone fushion surgery would severely reduce the flexibility in his wrist and more than likely end any thoughts of a hardwood comeback in the future.
“I’ve had ankle surgery, I’ve had (left) knee surgeries, I’m about to have wrist surgery,” O’Neal said. “I don’t think people understand just how severe my wrist is. People don’t know I completely tore the ligament in my wrist last year when I did it. Took the cortisone shot, but didn’t realize how bad my wrist was getting.”
O’Neal also took offense to various reports speculating he wanted a buyout from his contract with the Boston Celtics so he could join the Miami HEAT’s frontcourt – his former team.
The veteran vehemently denied any rumors which revolved around him leaving Boston.
“That’s something that needs to be cleared up,” O’Neal said according to the report. “I never asked (Celtics president of basketball operations) Danny [Ainge]. I never spoke to Danny – quote me on this – about a buy-out. Danny has never spoken to me about a buy-out. Our conversation has always been strictly with (team trainer) Ed Lacerte and our doctors about my health and my ability to come back. [Ainge] said to the media that we were going to have a conversation, and we both had the same question for each other, ‘where does this stuff come from?’ My concern and his concern was my ability to get back on the court. And if I couldn’t, then I couldn’t. He has supported me in such a way that … me and my family appreciate that.”
This season likely marks the last playoff run for the veteran laden Celtics as currently constructed behind future Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce.
O’Neal was expected to play heavy minutes and anchor the team’s frontcourt along with Garnett after Shaquille O’Neal retired at the end of last season.
The Celtics were already battling with an extremely thin frontline, having lost reserve big man Chris Wilcox to a season ending procedure (heart).
The loss of O’Neal and Wilcox has thrust Garnett into a role which requires more minutes at center.
The widespread belief in NBA circles is O’Neal will undoubtedly retire after his latest injury in order to spend more time with his family, but the vet once again reiterated that isn’t the plan – well, at least with 100 percent surety.
“My plan is to get a couple treatments to my (left) knee, what Kobe (Bryant) did, and just get the body right again and concentrate on that,” O’Neal said. “Whatever opportunities are there, if I decide to play again, I’ll go with that. I would like to come and finish a job that I started (in Boston). If not, I totally understand. I still appreciate everything this organization has done for me.”
Hornets Recall Henry After Short D-League Stint: Xavier Henry’s journey in the NBA hasn’t gone as expected so far.
Selected with the No. 12 overall pick by Memphis in the 2010 draft, Henry has logged court time in only 63 contests, battled numerous injuries and has already been traded once.
His current team, the New Orleans Hornets, recently sent him to the D-League to get him more floor time and help improve his confidence.
It was a very brief stay there as he got the D-League assignment late Saturday after a Hornets rare win, played on Sunday with the Iowa Energy and was back with New Orleans in time for Monday’s practice.
“We needed to get him more time, and this was a good time to do it because we had three days (in between games),” Hornets head coach Williams told John Reid of The Times-Picayune. “If he doesn’t play a certain way, we just don’t play him. The bench wakes you up, and he should be wide awake. I think the toughest thing for (Xavier) is that he was at Kansas for only a year before he left early for the draft. Then he goes to Memphis and is hurt, so he doesn’t get the same teaching. Then we have a lockout. That’s two years where he hasn’t played consistently.”
Henry is averaging 5 points in a little over 14 minutes per game with the Hornets this season. He readily admits the transition to the pro game has been a little difficult, especially his new role in New Orleans.
“There are things that have been different here than what I had to do in Memphis,” Henry said. “Of course, it’s a new offensive system, but different defensive principles as well. If I see somebody coming off the strong side, sometimes I still go in there to help, and that’s what we were required to do in Memphis, but not here.”
Veteran guard Jarrett Jack believes the D-League assignment will light a fire under Henry to play up to his lottery selection status.
“I think when you are sent to the D-League, it makes you more hungry because a lot of guys down there want your position, and they are going to come at you like you are the prize,” Jack said. “For him, it was kind of a wake-up call. Since he came back, it seems like he has had a fire beneath him, showing a little more effort. The thing with younger guys is getting them to play hard all the time.”
The team plans to get Henry more involved in the nightly rotation during the last month of the season.
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