About 10 minutes after the final buzzer Friday night, James Harden was already dressed – presumably showered – and waved goodbye to David Fizdale in the hallway. To call it a quick exit would be an understatement.
“Aight James,” Fizdale responded before explaining that Harden played like an MVP.
Later, Fizdale discovered that Harden – along with several other Rockets players, including Chris Paul – had bolted the court well before the end of their blowout victory over the Knicks. Only one player – former Knick Iman Shumpert – remained on the bench. No matter how you slice it, leaving early to get a headstart on Friday night plans – no matter what they were — is disrespectful to teammates on the court and the opponent.
But Fizdale said he didn’t care.
“I don’t really have an opinion on it,” the coach said. “That’s something you have to ask the other team how they felt about that. Our guys, I know, were focused on the game and playing hard.”
Pressed on whether he wanted an explanation for Houston’s mass walkout, Fizdale responded, “No. I’m not losing any sleep about it. I got a game today. We got the Wizards. I think you guys know me. I’m focused on what’s in front of me. I don’t get caught up in that stuff. Again, you don’t know what they had or what they had going on. I don’t like to speculate on stuff like that.”
Two days later — on Sunday evening — Fizdale’s squad beat the Wizards, 113-110, behind Mario Hezonja’s 30-point effort. Nobody left the bench early.
“Somebody in that (Rockets) organization has to say, ‘We can’t do that,’” ESPN analyst Mark Jackson said during the telecast of the Thunder-Timberwolves game. “That’s not how you handle business. That’s not how you conduct yourself.”
Added fellow ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy, “I really can’t believe that happened in this league. Can you imagine in the NFL if everybody left early? There’d be an uproar. In our league, it was just the next thing.”
It’s important to note the Knicks are the worst team in the NBA, and were losing to the Rockets by as many as 42 points Friday. Two days later — on Sunday evening — was a different story, but it’s safe to say Steve Mills’ promises of producing a competitive and respectable product have fallen flat. The winning culture will have to wait.
The Rockets’ walkout underscored New York’s standing among its peers, and, as unofficial Knicks captain Lance Thomas hinted, also an indication of loose rules in Houston. As one league source told the Daily News, “Harden runs the show over there.”
“If that’s what they did (walk out of the game), that’s what they allow their players to do over there, that’s on them,” Thomas said, adding later, “I think that everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. If that’s what they do over there, that’s really up to Houston what they want to do with their players. I didn’t notice it and I don’t care to be honest.”
After Friday’s loss – which became the clincher for the worst record in the league this season – the Knicks locker room was in high spirits and Mario Hezonja was giddy over his triple-double. Fizdale, who carries a reputation of getting along with the league’s stars, said Sunday that he didn’t know Harden, Paul and others left the court early.