David Fizdale spent his time off last season essentially backpacking the NBA, soaking up tips while attending practices and examining the successful.
His most notable and publicized stop on the tour was at Golden State, where, among other things, Fizdale picked up a greater understanding of the third quarter’s importance.
For four years running, the Warriors have been the NBA’s best team in those 12 minutes, winning them by an average of 4.3 points. The second-best team over the same span – the Spurs – aren’t touching that dominance, beating opponents by an average 1.7 points.
The Knicks? They predictably stink, with a putrid +/- average of -1.7 in the third quarters since 2014-15. Most of that has to do with talent, which the Knicks are sorely lacking.
But the other part – as many who’ve watched the Knicks over the last three years have noted – is a drop in focus and effort coming out of the break. They’re not good enough to overcome those dips. Not back then. Not now.
Fizdale, as part of his culture overhaul, is taking steps to correct it. And since the Grizzlies lost the third quarter in Fizdale’s only full season as head coach, he also has to learn from his own mistakes.
Hence the trip to Oakland after Fizdale was fired in Memphis.
“We stressed that coming out of halftime that we want to be a great third-quarter team,” Fizdale said. “If we’re going to learn from the great teams out there – Golden State was phenomenal last year coming out of the third quarter – and that was something I took from watching them and how (Warriors coach Steve Kerr) emphasized that when I was out visiting. They were all about winning that third quarter. So I want to instill that in the guys right now.”
New York’s preseason opener Monday – a 124-121 overtime victory against the Wizards – was such a sloppy foulfest it was difficult to gather much information about the latest incarnation of the roster. The Knicks committed a mind-boggling 44 fouls (the Wizards committed 39), and the players spent more time waiting around for foul shots and inbounds passes than playing basketball.
If only the referees could get over themselves.
“That had to be brutal for y’all,” Fizdale joked to those unlucky enough to watch it live.
Nonetheless, the most encouraging and fluid stretch for the Knicks was the start of the third quarter. Not only did they jump out of the half with a 14-0 run, they did it with their U-23 lineup – Emmanuel Mudiay, Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox, Mario Hezonja and Mitchell Robinson.
Robinson started it with an alley-oop dunk from Hezonja. Knox hit his first preseason 3-pointer. Then his second one. Ntilikina knocked down a trey as well. Hezonja connected on an and-one. It was two minutes of Knicks beauty that occurred against most of the Wizards starting lineup, including Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr.
“They got out, they got a lather in their warmups, they got their minds prepared and they came out ready to play,” Fizdale said.
Hezonja was excited.
“We were so athletic out there. We made our presence felt with a couple of steals. We made our easy transition layups. We’re young, man,” he said. “We were running up and down like crazy so that’s a huge advantage for us.”
The Knicks won’t have many advantages this season, not with a roster devoid of a single established star. But if they are playing hard and improving, they are successful. That’s the safe bar set by the front office and the coach.